With time running short, the United States is pressing Soviet authorities to help contain a crisis stemming from last Saturday's arrest of American newsman Nicholas S. Daniloff in Moscow. But finding a solution will involve difficult trade-offs for both nations, who now fear losing face over the incident but fear its possible effect on prospects for a second superpower summit.
The White House is eager to get the Soviets to approve a deal before Tuesday, when Soviet officials will announce whether or not they plan to put U.S. News & World Report correspondent Daniloff on trial. On the same day Gennadi F. Zakharov, a Soviet employed by the United Nations, is scheduled to appear at a hearing in New York, where he is expected to be formally charged with espionage.
``We need to convey our views to the Russians quickly before they get locked into public positions from which it will be difficult to retreat and before we have to deal with increasing public pressure at home to take retaliatory action,'' says a State Department official. ``At stake here is the recent positive momentum in US-Soviet relations.''
Mark Garrison, former US deputy chief of mission in Moscow, says: ``Anyone could have predicted that the Soviet reaction [to Zakharov's arrest] would have been to set somebody up in Moscow. Now the administration is faced with protecting the interests of that particular American and keeping things on a reasonably even keel for a summit the President apparently wants.''
Under the terms of a deal proposed this week by Washington, Mr. Daniloff would be turned over to the US Embassy in Moscow and allowed to return to America. In return, the US would release Zakharov to the custody of the Soviet Embassy in Washington.
Zakharov was arrested last week in New York after making a $1,000 payment to a defense contractor collaborating with the FBI. Daniloff was seized Saturday by KGB agents in Moscow after being given two secret maps by a Soviet friend.
US officials point to a 1978 precedent for the swap in which an American businessman accused of smuggling was expelled from Moscow after the US agreed to turn over two Soviet employees of the UN charged with espionage to Soviet Ambassador to the US Anatoly Dobrinin.
The arrangement turns on whether Moscow will go along with an arrangement under which Zacharov would be put on trial and be subject to possible imprisonment, while Daniloff would be allowed to go free. In the 1978 case both US and Soviet parties were tried and convicted before being returned.
There is substantial opposition in the US to any arrangement that smacks of ``equivalency.'' A State Department official says, ``We don't consider the cases comparable. It's very unlikely we would exempt Zacharov from the judicial process here.''
U.S. News publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman told reporters yesterday, after visiting Daniloff in his Moscow jail cell, that Daniloff told him he felt a swap would not be proper, because he is not a spy.