Put on the defensive by the breakup of the Iceland summit without an arms agreement, the Reagan administration is now pursuing two broad objectives: In the short term it seeks to prevent the Soviets from making propaganda points in Europe over ``star wars.''
In the longer term it wants to recapture at the arms talks in Geneva the tentative gains made in Reykjavik.
``We believe there is no going back on what was developed at this meeting and we look forward to continued negotiations which will build on the progress achieved at Reykjavik,'' the White House declared yesterday. Officials also note Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's statement that the work done in Iceland cleared the way for further movement toward significant arms reductions.
Administration officials pinpoint two areas where progress in Iceland could lead to early agreements: reductions in intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) and limitations on nuclear testing. But the administration has yet to give its Geneva negotiators new bargaining orders.
``Over the short term we'll have a propaganda war,'' one official says. ``A little dust has to settle, and we must evaluate what has happened.''
It is not clear whether the Soviet leader would separate INF from the more difficult issues of strategic weapons and the President's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), as star wars is formally known. In Reykjavik Mr. Gorbachev startled the Americans with concessions -- including on INF -- but these all appeared to be tied to limiting SDI to the laboratory. The Soviet leader, as well as President Reagan, indicates that he wants to keep the arms dialogue going, however.
``During two days of negotiation and discussion, all the pieces of the dialogue ended up on the table and revealed some opportunities,'' says a US official who was in Iceland. ``All the cards show where we could go.''
The Soviets could not go back on their agreement on INF and be credible, the official says. But even if Gorbachev proves willing to negotiate an INF agreement -- and he agreed tentatively in Iceland to limit medium-range warheads to 100 for each side -- the two sides would still have to iron out the issues of short-range missiles, duration of the interim agreement, and verification procedures.
Public reaction in the US to the President's performance in Reykjavik appears to be supportive. But diplomatic and arms experts suggest that, once there is widespread understanding of the issues, Mr. Reagan will come under growing criticism for what are regarded as ``dreamland'' positions on intercontinental forces.
Incomprehensible to many arms experts, for instance, is Reagan's proposal for a total elimination of ballistic missiles in 10 years, followed by the deployment of space-based defense systems. Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia points out that such disarmament would leave the US confronting superior Soviet conventional forces, an outcome the European allies would hardly welcome.
US Secretary of State George Shultz said this week that an agreement could not take effect unless China, Britain, and France agreed to give up their ballistic missiles -- which many experts think is a pipe dream. National-security adviser John Poindexter says the superpowers would not be left without nuclear weapons, because they would still have bombers and cruise missiles. But these would be no match for ballistic missiles.
The key issue troubling arms control advocates, though, is the President's insistence on SDI. Few scientists think it is feasible to build what the President envisages: a leakproof system to protect the population. Nor is it thought that the United States, given the distrust between the superpowers, would be willing to share SDI technology with the Soviets.
Central to the SDI conundrum is the issue of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which governs the development and deployment of defensive systems. Reagan told Gorbachev that, in return for deep cuts in offensive nuclear weapons, the US would adhere to the treaty for 10 years. But the two leaders did not come to grips with the critical issue of how to interpret the pact, which prohibits the testing, development, and deployment of space-based defensive systems. Gorbachev simply demanded that SDI research be confined to the laboratory -- and the President refused.
Security adviser Poindexter says the US is now abiding by the ``strict'' interpretation of the pact but at some point will need to follow a loose interpretation that allows for SDI testing and development.
This is what concerns American arms control advocates. They see Reagan in effect undertaking to abrogate the treaty and to develop a defensive system that can be deployed unilaterally -- something the Soviets will not accept. ``The idea of sharing our technology is wildly inconsistent with unilateral deployment,'' says John Steinbruner, an arms analyst at the Brookings Institution.
In the opinion of many analysts, the President is stubbornly adhering to SDI as a realistic goal instead of as a bargaining chip with which to bring about radical reductions in offensive nuclear weapons.
But one key administration official says there is still some ``elbowroom'' in the US position on SDI.
For all the gloom after the Iceland get-together, some arms control advocates are cautiously sanguine that negotiations will get back on track and that agreements are achievable. ``I'm depressed but somewhat optimistic, because we forced the Soviets to tip their hand on what they would give up,'' a Senate aide says. ``It's a question now of winning an agreement.'' Geneva starting points resulting from Iceland
These are the tentative arms control agreements reached at Reykjavik before the Reagan-Gorbachev summit faltered over ``star wars,'' the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Intercontinental nuclear weapons
Over the next five years, roughly 50 percent reductions in ``delivery vehicles'' to 1,600 on each side carrying a total of 6,000 warheads. These include land- and submarine-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and bombers. Soviets agreed to a ``significant cut'' in their SS-18 ``heavy'' missiles, which carry up to 10 warheads each. US agreed for the first time to include bombers in the mix with a formula for air-launched cruise missiles. Both sides agreed that all ballistic missiles should be abolished in 10 years. Intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF)
Both sides would reduce European-based weapons of this type to zero. Soviets could keep 100 missiles in Asia; US would keep the same number in the United States. This means pulling out all the Soviet SS-20s and US Pershing 2 and ground-launched cruise missiles now in Western Europe. Shorter-range nuclear missiles there would be frozen at the current level pending further negotiations. First steps toward verifying the withdrawals were also agreed upon. Nuclear weapons testing
The Soviets withdrew their call for an immediate end to nuclear tests. They agreed to a step-by-step approach: establishing verification procedures, reducing the number of tests, then eliminating all testing.