The pace of movement toward a new East-West arms agreement quickened from crawl to trot over the past week. What had seemed only possible now seems virtually certain. Moscow was still denying when we went to press that Mikhail Gorbachev will come to New York in September, but it will no longer be surprising if he does.
Add to the above that United States President Ronald Reagan made a speech on East-West relations on Wednesday in which he did not once call the Soviet Union an ``evil empire'' or ``the source of all evil'' in the world.
Instead he saw Soviet ``movement toward more openness, possibly even progress toward respect for human rights, and economic reform.''
The President said we would have to continue to judge the Soviet Union ``as it has been and as it is, not by what we would hope it to be.'' It was the friendliest speech Mr. Reagan has yet delivered about the Soviets.
The quickening of movement toward an agreement on arms control came in two parts. In West Germany, Chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed, under certain conditions, to waive modernization of Bonn's 72 aging Pershing 1A intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
In Washington, the White House sliced back its proposals for verification procedures under the proposed new treaty which would eliminate worldwide all intermediate-range nuclear missiles belonging to both superpowers.
Both the Pershing 1A's and the verification issue have been stumbling blocks to arms control.
The Soviets had wanted to include West German missiles in their negotiations with the US. The West Germans had objected to having other people bargain away their defenses.
The old Pershing 1A's will become obsolete unless modernized. By giving up the rights to modernization, Dr. Kohl has taken a long step toward clearing away this issue as a hurdle.
The idea of putting tough verification provisions into any treaty always seemed a good one in Washington, so long as no agreement was on the horizon.
But by last week, Washington had realized that while it would love to have American inspectors roaming through Soviet factories on short notice, it would not like to have an equal number of Soviet inspectors doing the same thing at American arms factories.
So now the US is proposing the kind of verification it is willing to tolerate at home, which means much reduced rights of inspection.
In other words, the maneuvering over the arms control treaty has reached the point where both sides are discarding unacceptable demands and falling back on nearer-to-final positions.
This marks the homestretch part of the arms-control process.
Of course it could be blocked again by something as serious as the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, which spoiled SALT II when that treaty had been signed but not yet ratified. In this case, it seems quite unlikely that Soviet leader Gorbachev is going to allow anything like that to happen again.
More plausible now is that the arms control treaty will lead into a general relaxation in East-West relations.
Are the Soviets thinking in that direction?
A hint that they are came in nine full pages of promotion advertising by the Soviet government in the Wall Street Journal. Moscow was certainly inviting American business and industry to begin thinking about possible investment opportunities in the Soviet Union.
This need not be surprising. The Soviets have obviously noticed as well as anyone else that China has been making long strides toward becoming a more modern economic society by entering into joint ventures with Western business and industry.
There is little reason to doubt that Mr. Gorbachev himself has come to realize that unless Moscow regains earlier relations with the West, the time might come when China would be more advanced than the Soviet Union.
It is obvious that he is consciously wooing both Western Europe and the US.
How far this will go depends, of course, on what price he is willing to pay for a general reconciliation with the Western world.