New envoy hopeful on arms pact

Will there be a superpower arms agreement this year? ``We're close enough so we can get an agreement if the Soviets want one,'' says Jack F. Matlock Jr., the new US envoy to Moscow..

The superpowers have made good progress in the Geneva arms talks, Ambassador Matlock says, and an agreement on intermediate-range nuclear forces could be concluded ``fairly rapidly,'' if the Soviets are prepared to resolve the remaining issues, including verification and short-range missiles.

Such an agreement would lay the ground for a visit to Washington, perhaps as early as this fall, by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. It could also lend momentum to the strategic arms reductions talks, now stalemated over Soviet insistence on placing some constraints on the President's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program.

``If an acceptable approach could be found [to SDI], we could move rapidly,'' Ambassador Matlock says. ``We came very close at Reykjavik on the principles for a strategic agreement, and the only big issue that is not decided in principle is the problem of sublimits [on strategic nuclear missiles]. ... Something probably could be completed during this administration, if the will is there on their side.''

Matlock points to progress in US-Soviet relations: a surge in citizen exchanges; a continuing dialogue on Afghanistan and other third-world issues; modest improvement in the human rights area; and movement on arms control.

But, adds the ambassador, the Soviets still do not appear ready to get out of Afghanistan, and they have not diminished their military help to Angola and Nicaragua. Much remains to be done on the human rights front, he says, and there are also bilateral difficulties, such as delays in opening up consulates in Kiev and New York.

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