United States Secretary of State George Shultz reported to NATO with ``controlled optimism'' Tuesday about his talks in Moscow on arms control and Afghanistan, according to one diplomat from an allied country who heard his presentation. Dr. Shultz stopped off at NATO headquarters after two days of conversation in Moscow with Soviet Communist Party Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, and other officials.
In briefing NATO ambassadors and eight other NATO foreign ministers, Shultz also reaffirmed NATO's twin policy of defense and d'etente.
On arms control, Shultz said that the two sides had ``moved a little bit'' in the crucial issue of strategic defense (or ``star wars,'' antiballistic missile or ABM defense, and, in the American program, the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI).
He said the Soviet-American dispute over the American desire to carry testing beyond the traditional limits of the 1972 ABM Treaty cannot be papered over, as was done at the Soviet-American summit in Washington last December.
He stated flatly, ``In the end there has to be a reasonable clarity.'' The Soviets have long insisted on such ``clarity.''
Shultz declared, however, that on one aspect of star wars - a period of ``nonwithdrawal'' from the ABM Treaty - the two sides ``moved to the point where I think it can be resolved when the time comes.''
That period of compliance, he said, will exceed the term of a strategic arms treaty (START) halving the number of long-range warheads. The term of the treaty is to be between five and seven years. The superpowers have not ``agreed precisely on the number of years'' for compliance, ``but I think that is one we can work out,'' Shultz said.
A second point - what happens after expiration of the nonwithdrawal period - was basically solved at the Washington summit, Shultz said at the press conference.
The two sides ``made a little headway '' at the Washington summit on the third and ``more difficult'' point of what tests will take place during the years of nonwithdrawal from the ABM Treaty, Shultz said.
On Tuesday President Reagan modified his language on SDI, in what might be a signal of greater flexibility on star wars. Instead of stating his more usual conviction that SDI should neutralize offensive strategic weapons, Mr. Reagan said that SDI ``will strengthen deterrence.''
The Soviets, while protesting vehemently against Reagan's more sweeping goals for SDI, do not object to a limited strategic defense that would make offensive weapons less vulnerable and therefore strengthen deterrence of war and increase stability in any crisis.
On work toward a START agreement, one allied diplomat said that Shultz gave an idea of ``how things are moving along.'' Shultz cited the three protocols on verification, destruction or conversion of weapons, and exchange of data that the two sides will try to agree on by the next Soviet-American foreign ministers' meeting in Washington at the end of March.
He said these protocols represent ``tasks in a critical sequence'' that need to be done if an agreement is to be ready for signing by the Soviet-American summit in Moscow in the spring.
Officials traveling with Shultz took Soviet willingness to instruct negotiators in Geneva to work on these protocols as a sign the Soviets still seek agreement.
In his press conference Shultz also hinted that Soviet-American difference over mobile missiles, which the Soviets want to permit and the Americans to ban them, was moving toward resolution.
He said the US has always acknowledged that mobile missiles have the advantage of survivability and therefore of increased stability - and that the US would approve them if they could be verified.
Shultz said there might be some way to enhance verification by ``deployment practices.'' The context of his remarks was that some limitation on their free movement might be designated, perhaps by confining them to certain preserves.
US officials said the two foreign ministers had ``chastised'' their negotiators for proceeding so slowly, and said the Americans were greatly encouraged by Soviet willingness to set concrete early deadlines for completion of the protocols.
In explaining his statements made in Moscow that he was confident about the Soviet intention to withdraw from Afghanistan, Shultz told journalists that Soviet statements to this effect are ``very clear'' and ``unadorned.''
Officials on his plane added that Western intelligence from Afghanistan shows that Soviet soldiers are being ``garrisoned in a more defensive way'' and that Soviet (presumably military) personnel whose terms are expiring are not being replaced in Afghanistan.
On the Mideast, Shultz acknowledged to the press conference the allies' intense skepticism that he can accomplish anything with his visit there later this week. He said it was better to make the effort than not to do so, however.''