As negotiations in the Daniloff case continue, they are yielding mounting evidence of a fundamental shift in the way Kremlin strategy is mapped out. A senior United States official says it appears that virtually every Soviet move in the negotiations is being choreographed in Moscow, by a new agency in the powerful Communist Party Central Committee. Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister, appears to have relatively little flexibility in the discussions; Moscow is, in effect, calling the shots.
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the Reagan administration to secure the release of Nicholas Daniloff, the correspondent for U.S. News & World Report who is being held in Moscow on espionage charges. The President is warning of far-reaching consequences from the case. The Senate Saturday urged the President to make a summit contingent on the release of Mr. Daniloff from the Soviet Union.
Moscow is floating suggestions that a ``swap'' involving Daniloff and Gennady Zakharov, a UN employee being held in New York, is being arranged. US officials dispute that claim, however, and say that no resolution of the case is in sight. The West German newspaper Bild reported Friday that Daniloff would probably be freed in early December in a prisoner exchange. Bild is a favorite conduit for stories leaked with the approval of the Soviet secret police, the KGB. The paper said Mr. Zakahrov would be swapped for Mr. Daniloff, three human rights activists, and several people jailed in the East on charges of spying.
As the complex talks drag on, the US is getting further evidence of the growing role of the former Soviet ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, in shaping this case -- and Kremlin foreign policy.
A senior US official says that Mr. Dobrynin, working with a new division in the party Secretariat in Moscow that is similar to the US National Security Council, seems to be choreographing the Kremlin's moves every step of the way.
Dobrynin appears to be consulting closely with military adviser Viktor Starodubov and former Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Kornienko. The three are apparently assessing each stage of the negotiations, and issuing detailed instructions to the Soviet negotiating team in New York, headed by Mr. Shevardnadze. Unlike his predecessor, longtime Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko, Shevardnadze appears to have only a limited authorization to probe beyond the bounds set by Moscow. That is one reason that the talks in the Daniloff case are being prolonged.
In the short term, the role of Dobrynin could be viewed positively, because he has such familiarity with the United States. On the other hand, he might be at pains not to appear too conciliatory in this standoff with the Reagan administration because that could spark criticism from Kremlin hard-liners.
The US is intercepting the messages between Moscow and the Soviet UN mission, although it's not publicly known how successful American experts have been in decoding them.
So it was perhaps fitting that President Reagan chose the Friday dedication of two new buildings at the government's supersecret code-breaking agency, the National Security Agency, to speak out about the Daniloff case. He said the US ``will no longer tolerate'' widespread espionage being conducted by foreign intelligence agents or ``the imprisonment of innocent American citizens in retaliation for protecting ourselves from espionage.''
But there's growing restiveness over the administration's handling of the case. On Saturday, the Senate approved a nonbinding resolution calling on President Reagan not to agree to a summit until Daniloff is allowed to leave the Soviet Union. The resolution, largely symbolic, gives an indication of the depth of irritation over the journalist's imprisonment.
Moscow, meanwhile, is sending mixed signals on the issue. Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Pyadyshev said Friday that obstacles to a summit meeting can be removed, and that a compromise in the Daniloff case is possible. But he also said Moscow is pressing ahead with plans to try Daniloff, claiming that new evidence against him has been collected. Western experts say a trial would result in automatic conviction for espionage; the offense carries a maximum penalty of death. The US is trying to avert a trial, on grounds that it would enormously complicate the negotiations for Daniloff's release.