Chilly US-Sweden relations show signs of rapid thaw. Growing speculation that Swedish leader will visit US

United States-Swedish relations are fast coming in out of the cold. ``Sweden is on the minds of policymakers in the United States,'' says Gregory Newell, the US Ambassador here.

Sweden, b^ete noir of the US during the Vietnam War with its hostile attacks on Washington and its support of the Hanoi government, is willing to put the past behind it. So, too, is the US.

The result is a flood of high-level diplomatic activity between the two countries that is fueling speculation that Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson may visit the US. It would be the first visit to the US by a Swedish premier since 1962.

Asked in an interview if such a visit was in the offing, Ambassador Newell said: ``There has not been an invitation extended to the Swedish prime minister. Nor has there been an invitation requested by the Swedish prime minister.'' But he concedes that in the course of the two countries' ongoing dialogue, ``it's possible that such a high-level visit would occur.''

Other diplomats suggest that the flurry of activity helps create a momentum in which a visit by the prime minister is almost a logical outcome.

At one time, Sweden seemed off limits to US VIPs. But in recent years there has been an escalation of high-level visits. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger came in 1982, Vice-President George Bush in June 1983, Secretary of State George Shultz in January 1984 and again in March of this year for the funeral of slain Prime Minister Olof Palme. Within the last three to four months, Stockholm has also been host to UN Ambassador Vernon Walters, Energy Secretary John Herrington, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Rozanne Ridgway, Assistant Secretary of Labor for International Affairs Robert Serby, and Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters Ann Wrobleski.

The dramatic change in bilateral relations is reflected in the fact that Sweden's ambassador to the US, Count Wilhelm Wachtmeister, doyen of the diplomatic corps in Washington, regularly plays tennis with Vice-President Bush. In December 1972, during the bitter Vietnam era, the US had refused to accept the credentials of the new Swedish ambassador.

Although Sweden is a David to the US Goliath, Sweden packs a far stronger political and economic punch that its 8.4 million population would suggest.

Sweden is one of the most influential neutral and nonaligned countries in the world. Also, it recently hosted the successful European Disarmament Conference, on confidence building measures in Europe, which brought the first East-West security accord in seven years.

The door to this improved relationship opened soon after Palme's assassination. But it is understood that two substantive discussions at the highest level in Stockholm were held during the last days of the Palme government -- despite the fact that he had made blistering attacks on the US during the Vietnam War.

Since then, hostility to the US has largely evaporated. Significantly, Swedish opposition to the Libyan air raid was muted. Prime Minister Carlsson said he couldn't agree with the US action based on international law. But that, basically, was all that he said.

Dilution of Swedish criticism of the US is in contrast to rising concern with the Soviet Union over Afghanistan, the Chernobyl nuclear accident, and the intrusion of its submarines in Swedish waters back in 1981. But observers of the Swedish scene say that unhappiness with the Soviet Union doesn't translate into any Swedish desire to join NATO or abandon its deeply cherished attachment to neutrality.

The new US-Swedish relationship is based on what is seen as a mature mutual acceptance of America's global responsibilities (notwithstanding sharp differences over Nicaragua) and Sweden's neutrality.

Much of the stimulus for replacing 15 years of drift in US-Swedish relations comes from Newell, who became ambassador on Dec 13, 1985.

On Jan. 1, specific US policy priorities were enunciated. These are meant to strengthen the relationship by encouraging high-level face-to-face diplomacy, adjusting the imbalance in the trade relationship, and periodically reviewing key issues such as terrorism, narcotics, disarmament, and regional conflicts. Another priority, one which has already been addressed, was to gain Sweden's assurance that it would not divert US high technology to the East bloc.

In the past four or five years, the amount of high technology re-exported from Sweden to the East bloc has increased two or three fold.

Under a decree promulgated Feb. 27 and enacted June 1, there will be an embargo on certain exports, including automatic data processing machines and printed circuits. The decree also includes curbs on exporting items necessary to produce the equipment in the above list. The stipulation does not apply to commodities accompanied by a certificate with country of manufacture.

Newell says the regulation hasn't been in effect long enough to assess its effectiveness.

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