Back to Square 1 seems to be the conclusion of United States officials looking at the post-summit spat about ``star wars'' between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan. In this case, Square 1 is an agreement to disagree and suspend the dispute about the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or ``star wars'') testing until the next summit.
Paul Nitze, chief arms control adviser to President Reagan, told the National Press Club Tuesday that he expected the Soviets to raise the issue again.
But a senior administration official said Wednesday on background that he had ``seen no evidence'' the Soviets would be willing to finesse the issue again at the Moscow summit next spring. He said the most authoritative Soviet negotiator, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, continued to raise the issue in his contacts with American negotiators through the conclusion of last week's superpower summit.
The latest quarrel arose when Mr. Reagan told reporters Friday that the wording in the joint summit statement Thursday ``resolves'' the disagreement about SDI testing. The statement, he said, allows ``whatever is necessary in the research and development [of SDI] without regard to an interpretation'' of the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty limiting ABM, or SDI, tests in space.
Bristling at this, Gorbachev stressed in a speech broadcast in the Soviet Union Sunday that there was still a conflict over SDI testing, and that if it is not settled it could upset the ``nascent'' moves toward mutual arms reductions.
On Tuesday Reagan retreated, telling reporters at a photo session that the Americans and Soviets still are ``in disagreement'' over the issue.
Senior American officials indicated that Reagan's earlier claim was probably a mistake and that the US should not ``gloat'' over negotiating successes. Such claims just force Gorbachev ``to answer to [his domestic] critics,'' they suggested.
The consensus among US officials is that the convoluted original sentence in the summit statement simply papered over the argument and postponed it to another day. The statement approved star wars testing in space ``as required,'' but also said it must be in compliance with the ABM Treaty ``as signed in 1972.''
The Reagan administration holds a ``broad'' or permissive interpretation of the treaty that would bar nothing except full deployment of an SDI system. The US Senate, by contrast, has passed legislation requiring all SDI testing in 1988 to comply with the more restrictive ``narrow'' interpretation.
The Soviets, after insisting last year on what American negotiators call a ``narrower than narrow'' interpretation, have been inching toward the traditional narrow interpretation this year, but have not formally endorsed it. Both Soviet and American spokesmen have suggested that it was the Senate action that allowed the Soviets to put the SDI issue to one side in last week's summit and negotiate instead on strategic arms reduction talks (START).
The Soviets insist they cannot carry out the agreed 50 percent cuts in strategic offensive warheads unless they are assured that the US will not suddenly ``break out'' of the ABM Treaty and deploy a space defense that would counter reduced Soviet warheads. The Americans, on the contrary, insist that START must not be held ``hostage''to limits on SDI.
At the moment, the particular SDI issue is the US wish to conduct ``realistic'' SDI tests in space. In submitting last September a list of ``thresholds'' of different ABM technologies that would or would not be allowed in space, Moscow approved ``closing speeds'' in SDI ``kinetic kill'' tests in space that were far more generous than the SDI test program calls for.
But the Reagan administration has refused in principle to negotiate on any such listing so far, and says kinetic-kill tests it could conduct under Soviet thresholds would be unsatisfactory because they would not be ``realistic.''