AMERICAN officials have come away from the Tokyo summit meeting convinced that there will be a Reagan-Gorbachev summit this year. At last year's Geneva summit between the two leaders, it was agreed they would meet again in the United States in 1986 and in the Soviet Union in '87.
In recent months, however, the Soviets have been playing a diplomatic cat-and-mouse game. They have been putting out the word that American actions have soured the atmosphere. They have sought, and failed, to get as the price of the next meeting the abandonment by President Reagan of his Strategic Defense Initiative. They have suggested a single-subject meeting on a nuclear test ban -- a meeting that would avoid for the Soviets such prickly subjects as their occupation of Afghanistan and their military support for Nicaragua.
In the face of all this maneuvering, the United States has stood calm.
Then the US air strikes against Libya gave the Soviets what they perceived as another propaganda opportunity. They canceled a summit preparatory meeting between Soviet and US foreign ministers, suggesting once again that the summit meeting itself might be in jeopardy.
It was a hollow gesture, for far from being devoted allies of Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi, the Soviets have treated him with some disdain. True, Moscow has sold Libya billions of rubles' worth of military equipment. But the Soviets have declined to supply the more sophisticated materiel that Colonel Qaddafi wants. The Soviets were careful to avoid direct involvement when the US launched its air strikes against Libya last month, and Qaddafi has reportedly made plain his disappointment with what he sees as lukewarm Soviet support.
But the word passed in Tokyo was that the Soviets are ready for another summit meeting this year. It came to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher via Leonid Zamyatin, the new Soviet ambassador to London.
This confirms the White House estimate that despite all the Soviet posturing and theatrics, Mr. Gorbachev would in fact go through with the meeting.
Two late developments may have nudged Gorbachev.
One is the drubbing the Soviets have taken around the world for their handling of the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine.
Although the Soviets are now offering more detail, they were initially tardy and secretive in telling their own citizens and those of neighboring countries about developments and the potential danger.
This has given them a very bad press. In the face of this, it would be even more difficult for Mr. Gorbachev to back down on an agreed summit meeting with Mr. Reagan this year -- a summit that much of the world hopes will reduce international tension.
Another development putting pressure on Gorbachev is the remarkable display of Western unity at the Tokyo summit.
A consistent goal of Soviet foreign policy has been to split the US from its allies in Western Europe. After the US air strikes against Libya, the Soviets sought to capitalize on European disapproval and create further disarray in Western ranks.
But in Tokyo, there seems to have been much progress toward healing differences among the allies over Libya. A few weeks ago, there were demonstrations in Western European capitals against President Reagan. Meanwhile in the US, where support for his Libyan air strikes was overwhelming, there was talk of boycotting Perrier and other French products because of France's refusal to let the American bombers overfly French territory. At the Tokyo summit, however, the US and France made plain that despite differences, the marriage endures. Unity seemed to be the theme in Tokyo.
Undoubtedly all this is being taken into account in Moscow, and perhaps the Ron and Mikhail show will play again some time this year in Washington.