After repeatedly calling upon the Soviet Union to put its arms reduction proposals before negotiators in Geneva, the Reagan Administration expressed hope Thursday that Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze will bring a concrete proposal for nuclear arms cuts when he meets with President Reagan today.
A senior Administration official, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, acknowledged that Washington will be disappointed if the Soviets do not go through with reported plans to offer a new proposal, by some accounts a 40% cut in offensive missiles.
There was said to be no hint of such a proposal when Shevardnadze met for 4 1/2 hours Wednesday with Secretary of State George P. Shultz at the United Nations. And Administration officials said they had no indication other than press reports that a proposal would be offered when the Soviet official meets with the President at the White House.
Georgy A. Arbatov, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s leading adviser on U.S. affairs, said in an interview published on Page 1 of today’s Times that Moscow is willing to negotiate deep cuts in its land-based missile force. He cautioned, however, that Reagan’s insistence on pushing ahead with his Strategic Defense Initiative could abort such negotiations and fuel a new round in the arms race.
The meeting between the President and the Soviet foreign minister, designed to help set the stage for Reagan’s November summit in Geneva with Gorbachev, is scheduled to last for two hours before adjourning to a working luncheon.
White House national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane told reporters that Reagan will express his hope that progress can be made between now and November on the major subjects that the two leaders expect to discuss at the summit. “We hope that Mr. Shevardnadze will bring with him proposals that will make that possible,” McFarlane added.
Foremost among those subjects will be arms control. The senior official who spoke with reporters said Reagan planned to discuss the Strategic Defense Initiative, which is focused on research into a space-based defense system, as well as the two sides’ views of stability in their opposing nuclear arsenals.
Saying that the Administration “surely would welcome a concrete proposal put forward in the spirit of give and take” in today’s meeting, McFarlane said he personally considers it “feasible” for a U.S.-Soviet arms agreement to be worked out within a year.
But, in private, officials seemed less optimistic. A senior official, pointing to recent changes in the Soviet leadership and the country’s subsequent focus on internal issues, said it is probably unrealistic to expect the Soviets to be prepared yet for “across-the-board negotiations that portend agreements.”
On the subject of nuclear weapons, he added, “I don’t think anyone pretends that the precision that must be reflected in a final arms control agreement . . . could possibly be achieved in the time remaining.
‘Will Take Months’
“If there could be some basic agreement on each side’s concept of stability, how we view the matter of reductions, the relative balance between offense and defense, even these things will take months to work out.”
The course toward an arms agreement, the official said, must pass through three or four phases of preparation. “If we can do one of these phases before Geneva, good. Two, terrific. But nobody has any real expectation that you can go through all of them before Geneva. It’s just not feasible.”
Administration comments, public and private, on the much-discussed meeting between Reagan and Shevardnadze reflected what the Administration has been trying to do in public-relations exchanges with the Soviet Union for weeks--to hold out hope on the one hand and to present the most modest of expectations on the other.
On the eve of the Shevardnadze meeting, Reagan noted that U.S. and Soviet negotiators are going back to work in Vienna in talks seeking mutual and balanced reductions in conventional forces in Europe. In a statement released by the White House, he promised that the United States and its European allies “will actively pursue every avenue of possible agreement” and he said he hoped for a “similar approach from the Warsaw Pact.”
2 Plenary Sessions
Adding to the anticipation that the Soviets are about to put forth an arms initiative was the fact that Moscow has asked for two plenary sessions at the arms talks in Geneva next week. Such sessions bring together U.S. and Soviet negotiators involved in three distinct sets of talks--on defensive weapons in space, on intermediate-range nuclear forces and on intercontinental nuclear weapons.
Also on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) released a report of a Senate delegation’s visit to the Soviet Union, including a meeting with Gorbachev, in late August and early September.
The report said the Soviet leader has accepted the reality that fundamental research on weapons such as those contemplated in the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly called “Star Wars,” cannot be limited by treaty because it cannot be verified. They said Gorbachev “appeared to draw the line at the making of models, the letting of military contracts, or research which leads to design work,” which he believes are legitimate subjects for a treaty because they can be verified.