Despite heightened East-West tension after the American bombing of Libya last week, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is pushing ahead with new arms control proposals. In remarks over the weekend, he urged ``a significant reduction'' of conventional and tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.
The Soviet leader also said Moscow will shortly be putting forward a ``new initiative'' to limit chemical weapons.
In a further sign of interest in business-like East-West relations, he gave tacit approval -- in the German interpretation -- to a visit by East German leader Erich Honecker to West Germany.
Mr. Gorbachev's words remained rather vague and left a lot to the imagination of his listeners, however.
Speaking informally to journalists in Potsdam, East Germany, on Sunday, he said that the United States actions in Libya had poisoned the East-West atmosphere in recent weeks. And addressing the East German party congress last Friday, he promised Libya ``solidarity in word and deed'' against the American ``crime'' and ``law of the jungle.''
``The aggressive and militarist US policy directly damaged the dialogue between the USSR and the USA and the East-West dialogue as a whole,'' he warned. Yet he threatened no concrete penalty -- not even a breaking off of negotiations about the next superpower summit due to take place this year in the US. At Potsdam on Sunday, he said the summit is still possible if Washington changes its foreign policy approach.
Soviet policy toward Europe -- both East and West -- also remains nebulous. Observers had speculated that Gorbachev might take the occasion of his first visit to Eastern Europe since last February's (largely domestically oriented) Soviet Communist Party Congress to set some guidelines for Europe, but this did not happen.
In arms issues, Gorbachev gave no figures and few details of his new bid for reductions in both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons in Europe ``from the Atlantic to the Urals.''
Conventional cuts should cover ``all components of land forces and tactical air forces of European states and the forces of the United States and Canada stationed in Europe,'' he stipulated at the East Berlin party congress. Units should be disbanded, with equipment either dismantled or removed to the country of origin.
He repeated, as the Soviet Union has been saying in recent months, that on-site inspection might be used to supplement satellite verification of any agreement.
On overall East-West relations, Gorbachev said that Moscow was extending its hand rather than its fist, but that the West wasn't responding in kind.
Instead, the US was ``launched on the road of effectively undermining the Geneva summit,'' especially with its continued nuclear tests despite Moscow's eight-month moratorium.
On West Germany, Gorbachev said the Soviet Union sets great store on good bilateral relations -- but only if Bonn really follows a course of peace and security. He berated Bonn for being the only European country to accept US Pershing II missiles, for being the most ``devoted'' European supporter of America's ``militarist SDI plan'' (President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative or ``star wars''), and for proposing ``a European version of `star wars' '' in developing a European missile defense.
Gorbachev's criticism of West Germany was not sufficiently strong to be interpreted by the Germans as a warning to Mr. Honecker not to go ahead with his maiden visit to West Germany. Two years ago the Soviets blocked this visit, objecting to too cozy an East-West German relationship at a time of East-West tension over the stationing of US Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe.