The Soviet Union seems to think it has seized the moral high ground in the post-Reykjavik deadlock over arms control. ``The agreements almost reached in Reykjavik were undermined at the very last minute by American intransigence on SDI,'' says Georgi Fedyashin, deputy director of Novosti, the Soviet press agency, and one of the principal sculptors of the Kremlin's image in the West. SDI is an acronymn for Strategic Defense Initiative, the Reagan administration's plans for a space-based ``shield'' against incoming nuclear missiles.
Mr. Fedyashin, along with other Soviet officials, is in Washington to observe the 30th anniversary of Soviet Life magazine, a Soviet government publication that circulates in the United States.
Moscow is missing no opportunity to press its point of view about what happened in Iceland -- and why.
``The Soviet delegation made very serious concessions to reach agreement in Reykjavik,'' Fedyashin says. But, he adds, the US was ``unfortunately'' not prepared to do the same.
Soviet officials are carefully avoiding polemics and bluster. The message is one of regret, rather than recrimination. It seems calculated further to increase pressure on the Reagan administration to drop its insistence on forging ahead with testing, and possibly deploying, SDI.
The tone was set by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who, in a TV address to the Soviet people, claimed: ``Our conscience is clear. One cannot reproach us for anything. We did all we could.'' The unspoken corollary: President Reagan did not do all he could, and it is up to him to compromise if there is to be progress on reducing nuclear arms.
Notably, however, the Soviets are publicly proclaiming that they have not abandoned an earlier proposal -- also tabled at Reykjavik -- which called for 50 percent cuts in both sides' nuclear-missile forces.
``Unfortunately, the US says no to this proposal,'' Fedyashin says. But, he adds, efforts to reach agreement will continue.
That is a far cry from the past, when the Soviet Union stalked away from arms control negotiations when its terms were not met. This time, Moscow says it is still willing to talk but is waiting for the US to be reasonable.
According to Fedyashin, Mr. Gorbachev termed the meeting in Reykjavik ``useful'' because it moved discussions forward. But, the spokesman added, ``Definitely, we are disappointed that we couldn't come to concrete results at the Reykjavik meeting.''
The Soviets are also underscoring the notion that President Reagan got ``cold feet'' in the negotiations and backed away from positions he had earlier espoused -- especially the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
``When the Soviet Union said, `Mr. Reagan, we formally agree to accept your zero option,' we were surprised that what was formerly embraced was rejected,'' Fedyashin said.
Soviet diplomats are also playing down the notion that they are now waiting until President Reagan leaves the White House to engage the US in serious arms control dialogue, in hopes that the next president will not be so wedded to an SDI system.
``That's not the case,'' says Igor Bulay, press counselor at the Soviet Embassy in Washington. ``We deal with the President which is elected by this country.''