Secretary of State George P. Shultz, completing three days of intensive talks here with Soviet leaders, said Wednesday that "the prospect is close at hand of reaching agreement" to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe.
However, "not much progress" was made on the much more difficult issues of offensive intercontinental weapons and anti-missile defenses, Shultz said.
Progress in the arms control areas came largely as a result of Soviet moves, which one European diplomat here called "major concessions and more than expected." The Soviets seemed almost "on the run" he said, in their desire for new agreements.
The Soviets clearly were more willing than the Americans to speculate on a new summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
'Good Prospects' Seen
Shultz appeared to play down prospects of such a meeting, perhaps to avoid creating public expectations that would lead to pressure on the Administration to speed up the process with concessions of its own.
But Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, facing no comparable pressure, told U.S. reporters that he saw "rather good prospects" for a summit in Washington this year.
"Let me say that if we get an agreement (on intermediate-range nuclear forces, or INF), it is quite realistic to speak of the possibility" that Gorbachev will visit Washington "and sign the agreement there," the foreign minister said.
Time Running Short
Shevardnadze, in an expansive mood before his final meeting with Shultz, also enlarged upon a new Kremlin line that the Reagan Administration may not have time left to complete agreements on the offensive and defensive strategic weapons before it leaves office.
"This problem does exist," he said. "It is a big problem, and even if we want it very much, we may not have enough time to achieve a full agreement on those two things. But that is why we are now proposing to concentrate on key provisions" in those two issues.
Formal Accords Later
By "key provisions," he apparently meant that the two sides would seek agreement on certain principles on the offensive and defensive issues that Reagan's successor would then be expected to convert into formal agreements through negotiations that follow.
On his final day here, Shultz visited a nearby artists' colony, where he spoke with novelists, poets and sculptors. When he relayed to Shevardnadze the word that the artists are "enthusiastic supporters of glasnost, " Gorbachev's policy of openness, the foreign minister expressed pleasure over Shultz's meeting.
Other Soviet officials may be less pleased by some of Shultz's unofficial contacts here, however, in view of the complaint leveled Wednesday by Tass, the official Soviet press agency, at unnamed "high-ranking people" whose "actions border on interference in the internal affairs" of the Soviet Union.
This was widely interpreted as criticism of Shultz's attendance at a Passover dinner Monday night with a group of Jewish refuseniks, those who have long been denied permission to emigrate, and his strong message to them of continued support from the United States.
Shultz and Shevardnadze, after their last two-hour session, signed a new U.S.-Soviet space cooperation agreement.
Under this broad understanding, the two nations will "begin coordinating unmanned satellite missions involving Mars," such as research on a Martian moon, Phobos, which both nations have previously planned, according to State Department spokesman Charles Redman.
Among other research covered by the agreement will be an exchange of scientific data on exploration of the surface of Venus and on space flight-induced changes in human metabolism. The Soviets have considerably more man-hours in space than the United States and have agreed to pass on their data to American scientists in this field.
Pact Ready Since November
The accord, similar to a 1972 understanding that lasted 10 years, had been ready since November, U.S. officials said. Its signing Wednesday was taken as another sign of the warming relations between the two superpowers despite the controversy over Soviet spying on the U.S. Embassy here and the continued disagreement on major arms issues.
At a later press conference open to Soviet as well as Western newsmen, Shultz said considerable progress had been achieved toward an INF agreement, a goal toward which U.S. and Soviet negotiators have worked since 1981.
As now envisaged, longer-range INF missiles (1,000 to 3,000 miles) would be eliminated from Europe over four or five years, Shultz said.
The United States would like all weapons of this class eliminated globally, he added. But the Soviets want 100 warheads retained by each side. Soviet weapons would be stationed in Asia and U.S. weapons in the continental United States.
Both sides have agreed that any INF treaty "must contain very strict and intrusive verification" measures, Shultz said.
But still unresolved, he said, was the problem of the shorter-range INF missiles, despite the new Soviet proposal to eliminate not only these weapons (which have a range of 350 to 1,000 miles) but also the so-called tactical battlefield missiles, which have ranges down to tens of miles.
Shultz said the United States must consult with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies on the offer--he later flew to Brussels to begin these consultations--in view of objections that some European nations have voiced to such an agreement. NATO relies on nuclear weapons to counter Soviet conventional-force superiority in the event of ground attack.
If total elimination of shorter-range INF weapons is not achieved, however, the Soviets proposed to Shultz that they would take two steps when any agreement on the longer-range INF missiles is signed:
First, they would withdraw and destroy the shorter-range missiles now in Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Then, in later negotiations over missiles of this type in the Soviet Union, they would negotiate an elimination of the weapons, to be accomplished within one year. A total of about 130 Soviet missiles of this class are involved. The United States has no missiles in the 350-to-1,000-mile-range category.
In contrast, the United States wants equal ceilings on the shorter-range missiles for itself and the Soviets. Implicitly, it would have the right to build up to the Soviet strength, at whatever level is set, in an effort to ensure that the Soviets do not use the shorter-range missiles to compensate for the longer-range weapons they eliminate.
The United States also wants a Soviet commitment to this principle of equality in shorter-range weapons spelled out in any INF agreement that is signed, rather than left to be decided in later negotiations.
Much work remains to be done to resolve this impasse, and the INF negotiations will have priority over all other arms talks, Shultz said. The Soviets also appeared forthcoming in negotiations on space defenses, with an enlarged list of the kind of research that would be permitted under the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but Shultz said that the ABM treaty, signed in 1972, needs no redefinition.
The Soviets want to place limits on U.S. work under the Strategic Defense Initiative--Reagan's proposed space-based missile defense system, popularly known as "Star Wars"--but the Administration is reluctant to accept any limits.
Instead, the United States has now proposed not to deploy anti-missile defenses for eight years (a hardening of its offer of a 10-year limit made at the U.S.-Soviet summit in Iceland last fall), as well as several steps to provide the "predictable environment" that the Soviets desire in the field of anti-missile research, Shultz said.
These steps include an annual exchange of information on each side's research plans for the coming year, open laboratories and allowing each side's observers to view SDI tests conducted by the other side.
No progress at all appears to have been made on offensive intercontinental weapons, although the two sides have already agreed to a 50% reduction of these weapons over five years, to be implemented sometime in the future.
But on nuclear weapons tests, the Soviets dropped their demand that new talks seek a comprehensive ban on weapon explosions, and they appeared to accept the U.S. proposal for talks on improved verification measures and tighter limits on the number and size of such tests.
In addition, the Soviets proposed a new system for monitoring underground tests, different from the United States' idea in which a cable is lowered into a deep hole adjacent to the blast site. Experts on both sides will meet to discuss the Soviet concept, which Shultz did not describe.
Chemical weapons were also discussed, with the two sides agreeing that their experts would visit weapon destruction sites located in the territory of the other country to observe them at work.
And finally, talks on "risk-reduction centers" have made "real headway" Shultz said. Under this concept, experts would constantly exchange information in an effort to prevent crises from escalating into war.
"It is altogether probable that agreement can be reached" on setting up such centers during the next meeting of U.S. and Soviet experts in the near future, Shultz said.