Moscow's prompt reporting of a fire on one of its nuclear submarines in the north Atlantic defused possible friction with the United States before the superpowers meet in Iceland Oct. 11. The fire, the first accident of its kind officially confirmed by Moscow, broke out Saturday on a nuclear-powered submarine that was patrolling the Atlantic between 500 and 600 miles east of Bermuda. The fire killed three people and injured several others, according to Soviet reports.
Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev informed President Reagan of the fire in a message two hours before the official Soviet news agency Tass reported the accident. Moscow sent the White House its assurances that there was no danger of a nuclear explosion, of accidental launches of nuclear missiles, or of any radioactive contamination.
A White House spokesman said Mr. Reagan expressed to Mr. Gorbachev his regrets at the loss of life in the accident and offered US assistance. No reply to the offer had been received, the spokesman said, adding that the White House commended Moscow for its quick notification of the incident.
The submarine has been identified as one of the Yankee class, with a 10,500-metric-ton displacement, capable of carrying 16 SSN-6 nuclear missiles with multiple warheads that have a range up to 2,100 nautical miles. The Tass report confirmed that the vessel was carrying ballistic missiles.
A US Navy spokesman said the ship is assumed to be on routine patrol in the north Atlantic.
Western diplomats said the Kremlin's prompt disclosure of the accident reflected its desire to keep US-Soviet relations on an even keel before next weekend's meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, between the US and Soviet leaders.