Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said yesterday that his Iceland arms proposals still stand, despite the latest crisis in superpower relations. But he accused the United States of deliberately trying to undermine any chances of an agreement. In an angry and bitter speech on Soviet television, he also accused West European politicians of sharing the same insincere attitude to nuclear weapons. They called constantly for nuclear disarmament, but lost their enthusiasm when disarmament suddenly seemed within reach, he said. It is clear, he added, that politicians in the West ``most certainly do not think of nuclear weapons in a defensive way.''
He made it clear that there would be no compromise on President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or ``star wars''). The US must understand, he told Soviet viewers, that the US's continued attachment to star wars would draw the world into ``another stage of the arms race.''
Shortly before he spoke, Soviet officials announced Moscow's reprisals for the expulsion of 55 of their diplomats from the US. These included the declaration of five US diplomats persone non grate, pegging the number of US diplomats on temporary duty in Moscow to the exact number of Soviet diplomats on temporary mission in the US; the removal of all Soviet support staff from US missions in the Soviet Union; and a ban on the employment of citizens of a third country in diplomatic missions here.
In this way the Soviets say, they will achieve what Washington is demanding: parity in the size of the diplomatic missions in their respective countries. It will also deprive the US missions here of more than 200 clerical and maintenance workers.
As expected, the Soviet response to the latest wave of expulsions has combined a show of strength and a signal of continuing commitment to arms control. But the bitterness of Gorbachev's speech indicated that Soviet hopes of a breakthrough were diminishing.
In the last few months, Soviet analysts of US policy seem to have examined two working hypotheses. Both cast doubt on the sincerity of Washington's interest in arms control.
One is that the Reagan administration is not only committed to a firm anti-Soviet stance, but wants to create a climate in which the next administration would have difficulty modifying the hard line. This theory all but excludes any hope of an arms agreement. As one of its proponents remarked, the only accord that would interest Reagan is ``one he'd dictate to us.''
The other line of thinking is that external political factors -- such as the US Congress, public opinion, and pressure from Europe -- can force Washington to soften its position.
Soviet statements since the Reykjavik, Iceland, summit earlier this month have implied that they were moving toward a pessimistic assessment of the US commitment to arms control, and Gorbachev himself seemed to be tending toward that theory when he said in his television speech that there now appeared to be no check to the power of the ``hawks'' in the White House.
In particular, Moscow seemed to be hinting at some flexibility on the contentious issue of testing components of SDI.
In Reykjavik, the Soviets insisted that testing of SDI be limited to the laboratory for a 10-year period. Since then, officials have implied that laboratory testing could be interpreted quite generously.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov said Tuesday that specialists had not yet worked out a precise definition of what was meant by laboratory testing. But at a press conference here last week, Viktor Karpov, the chief Soviet negotiator at the Geneva arms talks, told reporters that the limitations envisaged by Moscow would still allow the US to carry out some ``practical'' tests of ``star wars'' devices. He stressed that Moscow would not allow these tests to take place in space.