Soviet officials are reacting coldly to President Reagan's latest comments on disarmament and his new proposal on strategic nuclear weapons. In a written statement issued on Monday, the eve of the next round of the Geneva talks on nuclear and space weapons, Mr. Reagan outlined a proposal for a 50 percent reduction in strategic nuclear weapons over a period of seven years, coupled with a commitment by both sides to adhere to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty until 1994.
Soviet officials describe the latest US offer as a new obstacle in the path to nuclear disarmament, and assert that it will in fact guarantee the continuing deadlock of negotiations on strategic nuclear weapons (those based in the Soviet Union, the United States, or at sea and which are capable of hitting the adversary's homeland). They say it reinforces their belief that Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or ``star wars'') is actually offensive in intent. They also claim that the whole tone of Reagan's statement has again given rise to doubts about US interest in any major disarmament agreement.
They express particular skepticism about the importance that Reagan and other senior US officials have attached in the last few days to an agreement in strategic weapons, where major disagreements exist between Moscow and Washington. This, they say, contrasts sharply with the comparatively scant attention paid to the apparently more resolvable issue of medium-range missiles. ``One did not feel any [US] enthusiasm for a medium-range missile agreement,'' in Reagan's latest statement, a Soviet official said yesterday.
US and Soviet officials, in fact, discussed the proposal during the visit last month of US Secretary of State George Shultz. During these talks, the Soviets made their hostility to the ideas clear.
Moscow's fundamental objection to the proposal is that it would allow work on SDI to continue unhindered. The Soviets say that any major cut in strategic weapons must be linked to limitations on SDI.
Soviet analysts say that the latest proposal reinforces their belief that SDI is part of an offensive system because the proposal would allow the deployment of star wars defenses after 1994, but would require each side only to cut their strategic offensive weaponry by 50 percent. This, they claim, amounts to a situation that Reagan himself once admitted could be interpreted as a threat. If defensive systems were paired with offensive ones, Reagan noted in his March 1983 star wars speech, this could be viewed as ``fostering an aggressive policy, and nobody wants that.''
Reagan's latest proposal, an official said yesterday, ``conforms precisely to what the President said he would never do.''
The Soviets also complain that Washington has lengthened the period required to achieve a 50 percent cut in strategic weapons. Previously, both sides were talking of five years, the new US statement calls for seven.
State Department spokeman Charles Redman was quoted yesterday as saying that the seven-year period had been made to ``allow the Soviet side more time to reach the proposed limits.'' A Soviet official described Mr. Redman's statement as ``rubbish.''
[Reuters reports from Geneva: US and Soviet arms negotiators resumed talks yesterday aimed at controlling space weapons and securing deep cuts in massive long-range nuclear arsenals.
[Chief Soviet arms negotiator Yuli Vorontsov greeted Max Kampelman, the chief US negotiator, at the Soviet diplomatic compound here for a working lunch.
[They were flanked by the senior negotiators who have worked separately since March 1985 in three groups discussing long-range nuclear arsenals, medium-range nuclear missiles, and space and defense weapons.]