May Be Called Too Conciliatory : Gorbachev Flies Home to Uncertain Reception

Times Staff Writer

Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev flew home Monday from the failed summit meeting in Iceland, empty-handed and facing an uncertain reception from his Kremlin associates and the Soviet people.

In his Sunday news conference, Gorbachev signaled that he wants to keep the dialogue going with President Reagan on arms control, despite his deep disappointment that they reached a stalemate on Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.

But, for Soviet tastes, Gorbachev may have come off as far too conciliatory, far too eager to make a deal. Even before he came to Reykjavik for the hastily arranged meeting, he was challenged for being too generous toward the U.S. President on nuclear issues. Now, by his own admission, he has made additional major concessions, yet failed to bring anything home from the two days of talks that he personally initiated.

Rarely Make Concessions


Soviet leaders and negotiators have rarely been known to make concessions. On the rare occasions when they have done so, it has usually been a last-minute change of position in order to nail down an agreement.

But Gorbachev said Sunday night that the new Soviet proposals for deep reductions in offensive nuclear weapons and a global ceiling of 100 intermediate-range weapons on each side--both tentatively accepted by Reagan--would remain on the bargaining table in the Geneva arms talks. The Soviet leader acknowledged that he had made “unprecedented concessions.”

And yet Gorbachev has nothing to show for it. By forcing a confrontation with Reagan over research on the Strategic Defense Initiative--the “Star Wars” program--and breaking up the talks on that issue, Gorbachev may have painted himself into a corner. Reagan may now find it impossible to accept a compromise proposal on “Star Wars” even to achieve substantial cuts in the Soviets’ heaviest missiles--a major U.S. objective.

“Gorbachev’s problem is that he may be seen by his people as a Russian Jimmy Carter,” a diplomat said, referring to the former U.S. President, who was often accused of showing weak leadership on foreign affairs.


Soviet sources agreed that Gorbachev’s remarks after the collapse of the talks were surprisingly magnanimous for a Kremlin leader. He delivered only a ritual condemnation of the American “military-industrial complex,” blaming it for controlling Reagan as if he were a puppet. Later, however, he said that Reagan and he could still work together.

For Soviet citizens, Gorbachev’s words may seem paradoxical. Statements by party leaders had led them to expect significant results at Reykjavik on testing, on intermediate-range weapons and perhaps on another superpower summit.

Gorbachev has held the top Soviet position for 18 months and, so far, there has been virtually no criticism of his leadership, although he and his associates have complained of resistance to his economic reform plans by middle-level bureaucrats in the government and in the party.

Strong Negative Reaction

But his decision to extend a unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests, while the United States has continued to test at a rapid rate, has generated a strong negative reaction, particularly within Moscow’s military establishment. There has been public criticism, too. One Pravda reader compared the moratorium, now in its 14th month, to using an olive branch against a sword and contended that only another sword was suitable.

Nonetheless, Gorbachev clearly hopes to woo public opinion in Western Europe with his policies on nuclear testing and his offer to rid Europe of medium-range missiles--whose deployment has caused political problems for most of those governments--as well as the prospect of the wholesale elimination of ballistic missiles.