American reporter Nicholas Daniloff proposed Wednesday that he and a Soviet citizen also charged with spying be released to their respective ambassadors to provide a “cooling-off period” in the mounting controversy that would allow diplomats to work out a solution.
In a closely monitored, 15-minute telephone call from Lefortovo prison to his Moscow office, Daniloff told his wife, Ruth, that his KGB interrogators have endorsed the proposal, which would have him turned over to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Arthur A. Hartman.
If Soviet and U.S. officials agreed to go along with the idea, Gennady F. Zakharov, a Soviet physicist and U.N. employee arrested in New York last month, would be handed over to Soviet Ambassador Yuri V. Dubinin in Washington.
Charges against both men would stand, however, and both would go to trial unless some other arrangement could be worked out by their governments, according to the plan Daniloff laid out.
Daniloff, who has been held for 11 days, said he felt that such a step would relieve the increasing tension between Moscow and Washington and allow preparations to proceed on schedule for a summit later this year between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, his colleagues at the U.S. News & World Report office here reported.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb declined to comment on Daniloff’s proposal but reiterated, “The United States is doing everything possible both here and in Moscow to bring about the swift release of Nick Daniloff.”
Shortly after Zakharov was arrested at a New York subway station on Aug. 23, the Soviets proposed that he be released to the custody of Ambassador Dubinin. However, the magistrate at the U.S. District Court refused. The arrest of Daniloff in Moscow came after that of Zakharov, on Aug. 30.
On Sept. 3, the Reagan Administration confirmed that it had proposed to the Kremlin that Zakharov be temporarily released to the ambassador’s custody in exchange for the outright release of Daniloff. Under that offer, the accused Russian would still be required to stand trial in New York. There has apparently been no Moscow response to the U.S. proposal.
Daniloff said he would not characterize his plan as a “swap,” but as an interim measure to allow diplomats to work out “something better” with less outside pressure.
It’s Not Enjoyable
“I do not enjoy being here,” Jeff Trimble, a colleague who is scheduled to replace Daniloff as the news magazine’s Moscow correspondent, quoted Daniloff as saying.
“There has to be a cooling of the rhetoric,” Daniloff said. “There is no need for a swap. It will be up to clever, intelligent diplomats to work out something better. Let us first get ourselves into a more comfortable spot, say, living in Spaso House, and then go from there.”
Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, has several guest rooms.
Daniloff has never mentioned the name of Zakharov, a Soviet employee of the United Nations who was indicted Tuesday on three counts of espionage. But Trimble said there was no mistaking his allusion to “another case that we all know about.”
According to Trimble, Daniloff said that officials of the KGB, the Soviet secret police and intelligence agency, told him in the course of his Wednesday interrogation period that they are in accord with his idea that he and Zakharov should be turned over to their respective ambassadors.
He said Daniloff quoted one interrogator as saying: “We agree with you. We think it’s time for the rhetoric to be cooled somehow.”
There is a precedent for the procedure suggested by Daniloff. In 1978, after two Soviet employees of the United Nations were arrested in New Jersey and charged with spying, an American businessman was arrested in Moscow and charged with violating Soviet currency laws.
Within a month of the arrests, the two Soviets, Rudolf Chernyayev and Valdik Enger, were released to the Soviet ambassador in Washington and the American, Francis Jay Crawford, a representative of International Harvester, was turned over to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow.
All three were put on trial, convicted and sentenced to prison. But Crawford’s five-year sentence was suspended and he was allowed to return home. The imprisoned Soviets were released the next year in exchange for the freedom of five Soviet dissidents.
Daniloff’s suggestion came on the heels of growing American condemnation of his arrest and after a federal grand jury in Brooklyn, N.Y., indicted Zakharov on charges that could result in imprisonment for life.
Soviet Media Attacks
The Soviet news media, meanwhile, have come down heavily on Daniloff as an agent of the CIA who sought and obtained military information under the cover of his work as a reporter.
There have been articles suggesting that the CIA has close ties to American reporters in Moscow and elsewhere, and that the CIA has infiltrated the American news Establishment on a broad front.
But some Soviet officials have called for quick resolution of the incident in order to prevent any damage to Soviet-American relations, particularly in relation to the possible meeting of Reagan and Gorbachev before the year is out.
A conciliatory note was sounded Wednesday by Valentin M. Falin, a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, who said that Daniloff is not considered guilty until a verdict is entered and that the case should not be seen as insoluble.
Falin told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. that “there are no such things in life as blind alleys. . . . They only exist in people’s minds. Therefore, it is always possible to find a way out of any situation, considering the interests of both parties.”
“As long as the court has not judged Daniloff guilty, he is not guilty according to Soviet law,” Falin also said.
‘Ringing the Big Bell’
Falin said solutions could be found in a quiet, diplomatic way. In an apparent reference to Reagan, who has warned that Daniloff’s detention could harm U.S.-Soviet relations, Falin cautioned against “ringing the big bell.”
Ruth Daniloff said her husband’s statements about releasing him and Zakharov into the custody of their ambassadors began as speculation. But on Wednesday, his colleagues quoted him as saying, “I think it’s right on track.”
Ruth Daniloff said she favors the idea even though her husband would still be a hostage and might be put on trial.
“Nick would have better living conditions,” she said, “and I am for that.”
Daniloff’s office said he saw a doctor Wednesday and received medication for hypertension. He was allowed to walk outside for two or three hours, instead of one hour as before, and the prison commandant visited his cell and directed that he be provided with sheets for his bed.
Three Formal Counts
Ruth Daniloff also said Wednesday that her husband told her that he was taken in front of a military tribunal on Sunday and charged with three counts of spying. She said the formal charges were:
--Using his foreign correspondent status to provide U.S. intelligence services with secret information harmful to the interests of the Soviet Union.
--Participating in a CIA operation with a Soviet citizen named as Roman. (She described Roman as a “bogus priest” her husband met in 1984 who was believed to be a KGB operative who tried to “set him up.”)
--Conducting other espionage activities.