The Soviet Foreign Ministry's chief spokesman said Tuesday that the arrest of US newsman Nicholas Daniloff should not affect United States-Soviet relations. ``We are seeking normal relations'' with Washington, said Gennady Gerasimov, at a press briefing. The arrest of Mr. Daniloff, Moscow correspondent of US News and World Report magazine, should not affect this, Mr. Gerasimov added.
Asked later Tuesday about the statement by White House spokesman Larry Speakes -- to the effect that the US would not allow the arrest to affect the the chances of a US-Soviet summit this year -- Gerasimov commented, ``I'm glad we are speaking in one voice at last.''
This optimism was shared by another Soviet official who asked not to be identified. He remarked that Mr. Speakes's comments showed that President Reagan was ``more interested than he lets on'' about a US-Soviet summit this year.
In the Foreign Ministry briefing, the first detailed official reaction to the case since Daniloff was arrested last Saturday, Mr. Gerasimov said that Daniloff had been caught ``red handed'' by the KGB, the Soviet secret police.
Ruth Daniloff says her husband was detained by Soviet security men after a longtime Soviet contact passed him an envelope, which was later found to contain documents marked secret. Mrs. Daniloff has that she believes her husband was framed by the KGB in retaliation for -- and perhaps to exchange with -- Gennady Zakharov, a Soviet UN official who is being held in New York on charges of espionage.
Gerasimov denied that Daniloff was framed, and says that the two espionage cases are totally unrelated. Daniloff's walk with his friend in the Lenin Hills -- an area just above Moscow, which surrounds the Moscow State University and several government guest houses -- was ``very suspicious.'' Such walks in secluded areas were like something out of a ``bad whodunit,'' he said. The Associated Press reports from Moscow:
Mortimer Zuckerman, the chairman of US News and World Report, met yesterday with Georgy Arbatov, a senior Kremlin adviser, in an effort to help Daniloff.
Mr. Arbatov, a member of the Communist Party Central Committee and the director of the Institute of USA and Canada Studies, explained the meeting by saying, ``He's an old friend, he came to visit.''
Zuckerman, in a telephone interview with ABC's ``Good Morning America'' described Daniloff as ``a pawn in some Soviet game they're playing with the United States.'' He contended the arrest was designed to establish ``some kind of leverage'' regarding Mr. Zakharov. He said Daniloff was ``being treated very well . . . and on that score we are relieved and happy.''