A COUPLE of weeks after Reykjavik, the dialogue between the United States and the Soviet Union seems surprisingly durable. There is the predictable public relations campaign on each side, the one seeking to blame the other for the collapse of the Iceland summit. There is a kind of diplomatic shoving game going on -- ``You push us and we'll shove you back'' -- as each side expels diplomats and makes tit-for-tat retaliatory moves.
But despite all the dire predictions immediately after Reykjavik of a freeze in US-Soviet relations, both sides are talking, both sides keep sending signals that they want to keep talking, and both sides apparently think there are still deals to be cut on arms control.
The fact is that we may be in better shape than anybody dared predict two weeks ago. That is not only because of the Reagan administration's media blitz to put a better face on what seemed a disappointing outcome at Reykjavik. It just may happen to be true.
We did not get the sweeping nuclear arms control agreement with which the two leaders toyed. Ironically, that has relieved some of the US's NATO allies who got the breath knocked out of them by the surprise and scope of the proposals. They face the reality of overwhelming Soviet and Warsaw Pact conventional forces on their boundaries.
They know that if nuclear weapons are scrapped, they are threatened by the prospect of an awesome Soviet juggernaut clanking across Western Europe. By everybody's calculation, NATO and American conventional forces in Europe are no match for the Soviets and their satellites.
Though imaginative concepts were suddenly sprung at Reykjavik, there seems to have been a fair amount of imprecision and free-wheeling at the top as well. This underlines the concern of the technicians about letting their political principals loose at suddenly scheduled and ill-prepared summits.
Enough headway was made, however, to encourage the principals to keep on trying for an agreement at less exalted levels.
Both leaders have made political capital at home out of Reykjavik.
Mikhail Gorbachev, reporting to the Soviet people on television in a much more open manner than any of his predecessors, is projecting the image of a man who went to Iceland with a reasonable package of proposals and stood up to Ronald Reagan toe to toe. He is carefully fuzzing the issue of whether Mr. Reagan himself, or Reagan's hard-line lieutenants, are to blame for non-acceptance of Soviet compromises.
Meanwhile, Reagan is doing pretty well with his own constituency. The polls show widespread support for his refusal to trade the Strategic Defensive Initiative for the package offered by Mr. Gorbachev. And he, too, is being careful to hold the door open to further negotiations on arms control with the Soviets.
The imperatives (particularly an ill-organized economy) that drove Gorbachev to seek an arms reduction deal are still there.
The Soviets know, too, that their window of opportunity may be closing. Reagan is in office for only two more years and may be their best President to deal with. He is tough, but his conservative credentials enable him to sell an arms agreement to the US public. The Soviets might not do business so effectively with a George Bush or a Jack Kemp in the White House, and certainly not with a Gary Hart or Mario Cuomo.
As for Reagan, he, too, is willing to move forward on arms control. But he hews to the same precepts he has believed in all along and which serve anyone well in dealing with the Soviets: Be strong, be careful, be sure you can verify and monitor any deal you cut. When dealing with Gorbachev, remember that any deal that emerges derives from mutual self-interest -- not because the Soviet Union has been overtaken by reform and regeneration.