Soviets Hint at New Missile Concessions
Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev assured President Reagan last week that the Soviet Union is ready to be more forthcoming on the issue of medium-range missiles in Europe and Asia, Administration officials confirmed Sunday.
The officials, speaking on condition that they not be identified, stressed that the offer, contained in a letter delivered to Reagan last Monday by the new Soviet ambassador to Washington, Yuri V. Dubinin, did not constitute a formal proposal but rather took the form of a hint that a new Soviet position on mid-range missiles would be offered.
“It was not a formal proposal, and it was not anything to get overly excited about, and it’s not that new,” said one official close to the negotiating process. He declined to give any further details.
“The letter does contain various ideas that we are studying and that we will be responding to,” said another official. Rather than constituting actual proposals, he said, the letter was “more of an elaboration than anything else.”
The officials noted that the recently completed round of arms talks in Geneva all but ignored the mid-range weapons known as Euromissiles, concentrating instead on a new Soviet proposal for reductions in strategic missile forces and for imposing limitations on Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as “Star Wars.”
Negotiations to achieve a balance of Soviet and American medium-range missiles in Europe have dragged on unsuccessfully since the first years of the Reagan Administration. An early U.S. proposal to eliminate all such weapons on both sides was flatly rejected by the Soviets. And the two sides have never agreed on how to count Soviet mobile missiles based east of the Ural Mountains, some ostensibly aimed at China, Japan and other Asian targets but also capable of being shifted to the European theater. The Soviets have also wanted to include the separate British and French nuclear deterrent forces in these negotiations.
Missiles Easily Moved
According to a recent Pentagon estimate, the Soviet Union has by now deployed 441 SS-20 missiles, each with three warheads and each capable of being moved easily. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard L. Armitage said last month that two-thirds of them are targeted on Western Europe.
In 1979, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization authorized the United States to deploy a total of 572 cruise missiles and highly accurate, single-warhead Pershing 2 missiles to counter the Soviet threat. Since deployment began in late 1982, about half of that authorized number has been installed.
In fact, one official said, the Soviets “were particularly unforthcoming” on the Euromissile issue during the Geneva round that ended last week. Thus, the hint in Gorbachev’s letter of a new Soviet position on Euromissiles was a welcome signal, one that Administration arms control experts and negotiators intend to study carefully.
In part because of the signal of possible future movement on Euromissiles, Administration arms negotiators now believe that the next 10 weeks, before the next round of Geneva talks gets under way in mid-September, could be unusually active.
“There is likely to be a lot going on between now and September,” the official said. “They laid down a new proposal at Geneva, and we didn’t respond to what they said while we were in Geneva, but there are precedents for making responses between rounds. We may very well see some movement in all three areas.”