The third and perhaps decisive round of nuclear arms talks opened here Thursday, with the United States pressing the Soviet Union to make firm proposals that might be taken up at the November summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
During the next six weeks in Geneva, the negotiators will be focusing on preparatory work for the summit meeting rather than any real negotiations. But the United States will also be seeking clarification on exactly where the Soviets might be prepared to see a line drawn between research and development on weapons for use in outer space.
President Reagan, in his news conference Tuesday evening, ruled out using his Strategic Defense Initiative--the “Star Wars” plan--as a “bargaining chip” in any arms agreement with the Soviets. But he was careful not to exclude some future bargaining, and to make it clear that “there is a great deal of room for negotiation.”
So far, in private negotiations in Geneva and public statements such as Gorbachev’s interview with Time magazine three weeks ago, the Soviets have taken the position that they will not negotiate any weapons reduction until the United States abandons the “Star Wars” program.
The Soviets have hinted about arms cuts but have put forth no proposals, and as a consequence these talks have been deadlocked since they began last March.
The opening of the third round of talks Thursday at the offices of the U.S. mission lasted a little over two hours. When Soviet negotiator Viktor P. Karpov emerged and was asked about progress, he said, “It is too early to make any conclusions based on a first meeting.”
During preliminaries in the conference room for photographers, the head of the American negotiating team, Max M. Kampelman, said, presumably in jest, “We are all aware that the Soviet Union is coming in with important new positions.”
When the two men were asked to shake hands for the cameras, Karpov said, “Why not? Let’s hope it helps.”
Then they got down to work.
Since the talks began, there has been a pattern of Soviet inflexibility inside the conference room, coupled with hints of flexibility outside. Secretary of State George P. Shultz is reported by informed U.S. sources to be running out of patience with this approach, and to have said as much to Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze when they met in Helsinki on Aug. 1.
Shultz and President Reagan are to meet with Shevardnadze late this month in New York, in connection with the opening of the new U.N. General Assembly, and are expected to try to get the Soviet hints translated into proposals.
“It’s going to be going on continuously--everywhere, here in Geneva, in New York, and between Moscow and Washington,” an American diplomat here said.
On the subject of weapons cuts, Gorbachev has talked in terms of “radical proposals” to visiting U.S. senators and others. In the interview with Time, he said that “tremendous possibilities in the field of strategic arms, medium range arms and the entire area of armaments will open up” if the United States will abandon “Star Wars.”
In Geneva as well as in Moscow, the Soviets have mentioned a reduction of 25% in strategic weapons, perhaps even 30%, or floating ceilings for different categories of weapons within an overall ceiling. Also, vague ideas have been put forth about how the ceilings might apply to warheads or launchers. But nothing is on the table.
As for “Star Wars,” Gorbachev acknowledged in the Time interview that “when the question comes up about banning research, what we have in mind is not research and fundamental science.” He said that what they have in mind is stopping “the design stage,” when orders are given for “specific elements of specific systems.”