With the meeting of Soviet and United States foreign ministers just a week away, the Soviets seem keen to find a solution to the case of the imprisoned American journalist Nicholas Daniloff. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow yesterday, senior Soviet officials hinted strongly that a settlement of the affair was under discussion.
One of the officials, Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Petrovsky, said that contact with ``responsible and competent American organizations have been made [by Moscow], and now everything depends on the American side.''
He refused to give details -- to avoid further ``heating up'' the incident, he said.
Mr. Petrovsky denied that Mr. Daniloff's arrest on Aug. 30 was in any way connected to the arrest the week before of Gennady Zakharov, a Soviet employee of the UN who was indicted this week for espionage.
But in the next breath Petrovsky appeared to contradict himself when he stated his belief that ``a settlement of these cases is possible.''
Petrovksy will be Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze's principal deputy at the UN General Assembly session that opens Sept. 16 in New York.
Asked about the planned Sept. 19-20 talks between Mr. Shevardnadze and US Secretary of State George Shultz, he said Moscow considered them ``important'' and felt that they should take place as scheduled. International affairs should not be held ``hostage'' to incidents like the Daniloff case, he added.
Other officials said yesterday that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had sent a ``short and businesslike'' reply to President Reagan's appeal for Daniloff's release, but gave no further details.
Officials here would give no indication what form an eventual settlement might take, but the first step might reasonably be expected to be the release of both Mr. Zakharov and Daniloff into the custody of their respective ambassadors.
This idea was recently proposed by Daniloff, and has the apparent approval of his secret police interrogators. The Associated Press reports from Moscow:
Daniloff, a reporter for U.S. News & World Report, has called his Moscow office three times since he was arrested. Each time, an investigator of the KGB, the Soviet secret police, has listened in.
During a call to the office on Sunday, Daniloff asked his colleague's wife, Gretchen Trimble, what was new.
Referring to Daniloff's dog, she replied, ``Zeus has fleas,'' and the line went dead. The KGB monitors apparently thought the phrase was some kind of code, Mrs. Trimble said.