In a lengthy farewell visit at the White House, Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin assured President Reagan on Tuesday that the Soviets remain committed to a summit meeting this year in the United States and that they will begin preparatory discussions to ensure a substantive outcome.
“Both sides wish to see a successful and substantive meeting,” said Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who disclosed that he will meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze in mid-May to plan the still unscheduled summit.
Shultz said that Dobrynin, who is leaving his post as ambassador after 24 years in Washington, was carrying a letter to Reagan from Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. He declined to disclose its contents.
Timing Still Uncertain
But Administration officials clearly were encouraged that the Soviets finally had set a date for a preliminary planning meeting, even though the timing of the summit remains uncertain.
Shultz called Dobrynin’s meeting with Reagan “quite a satisfactory exchange” and noted that it lasted for an hour and 15 minutes, five times as long had been scheduled.
As a farewell gift, Dobrynin, the dean of the Washington diplomatic corps, sent Reagan an electric samovar, an ornate Russian tea server. He also presented the President with nine blue and white Russian figurines of children and adults. White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that Reagan did not give Dobrynin a gift in return.
In what seemed to symbolize the Administration’s wariness in dealing with the Soviets, no media coverage of the visit was allowed.
Shultz acknowledged that the relationship between the superpowers has not flourished since Reagan and Gorbachev met in Geneva last November. While there has been progress in the relatively non-controversial areas of cultural exchanges, consular agreements and air landing rights, critical issues such as arms control have stagnated, he said.
“There has been basically no movement in START (strategic arms reduction talks) or the space and defense area,” he told reporters. “We feel we have proposals on the table that need a response.”
But, Shultz added, the fact that the meeting between Reagan and Dobrynin lasted as long as it did “speaks volumes” in the careful diplomatic strategy of the superpowers.
Another American foreign policy official, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said he believes the Soviets are genuinely torn over the issue of the summit.
“They want it, but they’re afraid of the risks,” he said. “It’s the same for us, but the risks for Reagan are significantly less.”
The White House is devising elaborate plans for Reagan to show off America to Gorbachev, including a visit to his Santa Barbara ranch and a model Midwestern farm and a food-processing plant.
“It’s a grand stage for him,” the foreign policy official said of Reagan. “I think the Soviets are worried about Gorbachev being able to handle Reagan in the U.S. from a P.R. point of view.”
Also, this official said, Gorbachev is likely to be the object of many protests, including some by Soviet emigres.
Soviets Want Later Date
Reagan originally proposed a June summit to Gorbachev, but the Soviets have been stalling for a date later in the year, either in September, shortly before critical congressional elections, or in November, immediately after those elections.
“Time is on their side from a political point of view,” said a foreign policy official involved in summit planning. “The longer they wait, the longer they can stoke the fires on arms control.”
Officials believe that the Soviets will seek to portray the Administration as “the bad guys” for spurning Gorbachev’s offer of a moratorium on nuclear testing and for refusing to yield on Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, the space-based missile defense system known as “Star Wars.”
Although Shultz said the Administration still favors an early summer summit, an official involved in the planning said June is “damn near impossible, strictly logistically speaking.” July is still possible but would be “a real bone-cruncher,” he said.
Sign of Concern
When asked if the Soviets’ insistence on a carefully prepared summit indicates that they are ready to make progress on an arms control agreement, a top U.S. official said it more likely is a sign of their concern about going home empty-handed.
“We’ll have careful preparations,” he said, “but that’s no indication at all it will lead to anything significant.”