Stalemate has settled in for the time being in superpower arms control talks. This much was agreed on by both the Soviet and American sides after the special session in Geneva of the six negotiators and their deputies Dec. 2-5.
Soviet chief of delegation Viktor Karpov let it be known that the talks had reached a dead end. And even the usually upbeat head of the American team, Max Kampelman, had to admit in a concluding statement to the press that ``there were no substantive changes in position narrowing the differences between us.''
It is still too early to tell if the current stalemate spells the end of arms control opportunities for the rest of President Reagan's term, or if it is simply a tactical pause until the shake-ups in the Reagan administration that have resulted from the Iran fiasco have worked themselves out.
The Soviet position is that since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev made all the concessions at the October summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, and Mr. Reagan made none, progress now depends on an American offer of restraint on Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or ``star wars'').
The American position is that since the summit settled on the broad outline of deep cuts in strategic offensive and intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF, or, in Europe, ``Euromissiles'') - and since the US made compromise offers on further details of offensive reductions in the regular Geneva negotiations after Reykjavik - it is now up to the Soviet Union to move forward in this area.
At the moment, however, all forward movement has ceased. And Moscow - anxious lest the US pocket the individual ``raisins'' the Soviets say they proposed in Reykjavik only as part of a package deal - is even retracting some of these concessions.
This Soviet hardening first became evident as the superpowers' foreign ministers met in Vienna Nov. 6 and as the Soviets presented their summit position at the formal Geneva negotiations Nov. 7. At the time, the American side hoped that this was just a fleeting phase. But last week's mini-session in Geneva made it very clear that the Soviets have dug in for now.
In Geneva, the Soviets are said to have addressed the various specific points of difference only in perfunctory fashion and to have focused almost exclusively on their claim that Reagan agreed at Reykjavik to eliminate all nuclear weapons by 1996 - and that the only task of the Geneva negotiators is to put this agreement into treaty form.
The US position, by contrast, is that at the summit Reagan talked only about a general goal (not about a bilateral agreement) of eliminating all ballistic missiles (not all nuclear weapons) by 1996.
The urgent task now, in the American view, is not to argue about utopia, but to negotiate concrete conditions for the approximate 50 percent cuts in strategic offensive weapons in five years that the two leaders did agree on in substance at the Reykjavik summit.
This leaves the present state of play in the Geneva negotiations during the Christmas recess as follows:
Space and strategic defense: The two sides remain furthest apart on this issue. The Soviet Union insisted at Reykjavik that the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty would have to be ``strengthened'' and that no SDI or ABM testing could take place ``outside the laboratory.''
Since then, various Soviet spokesmen have hinted publicly that these phrases might only be shorthand for strict observance of the 1972 ABM Treaty for the 10 years of nonabrogation discussed at Reykjavik. So far, the Soviets have signaled no such flexibility at the negotiating table, however.
Strategic offensive weapons: After the tentative superpower agreement at the summit on deep cuts by 1991 down to 1,600 launchers and 6,000 warheads each, the US made compromise proposals in Geneva for sub-limits within the 6,000 total on ballistic missile warheads, land-based missile warheads, and warheads on missiles with more than six warheads a piece.
Ever since the Vienna foreign ministers' meeting, however, Moscow has maintained that no sub-limits are needed other than the halving of Soviet heavy missiles and warheads offered at Reykjavik.
In a further retreat from the Reykjavik understandings, the Soviets have now reopened the whole issue of submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), saying that both conventional and nuclear SLCMs must be limited.
Intermediate nuclear forces: Here the Soviets continue to insist that no INF deal can be reached separately. At the full negotiating session in Geneva last month, the Soviets also linked a ban on nuclear testing to the whole package.
In addition, while the Soviets still support the tentative summit agreement to remove all INF from Europe, they now say that the collateral Reykjavik limits on 100 Soviet SS-20 warheads in Asia (with a US right to keep 100 comparable warheads in the US) no longer apply.