Soviets Optimistic on Talks to Halve Strategic Arsenals

Times Staff Writer

Although a new arms agreement will not be signed at the U.S.-Soviet summit meeting here next week, top Soviet officials said Thursday that a major breakthrough is possible in the negotiations aimed at reducing the superpowers’ strategic nuclear arsenals by half.

“We need some compromises, difficult compromises, but I believe they are within reach,” Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, chief of the Soviet general staff, said. “With some compromises, I do not think we will be that far away from one another.”

Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, will press President Reagan for a new set of joint instructions to the Soviet and American negotiations at Geneva, Soviet officials said, with the conviction that this will lead to a full agreement by the end of the year.

“As a military man, I would prefer more concrete instructions to the delegations for further talks,” Akhromeyev told reporters. “We are ready to draw up principles for the delegates to continue the negotiations with more definite goals. . . . If we can get this new mandate--that is, if we can agree on a basic approach to the issues--we can move forward on this.”


New Proposals Awaited

Difficult compromises would be required, even for this initial step, the officials said, and Moscow is waiting for new American proposals on the major issue of how to deal with sea-launched cruise missiles in the proposed reduction.

Vladimir F. Petrovsky, a deputy Soviet foreign minister, said that Soviet expectations for the Gorbachev-Reagan talks are high--not in terms of immediate agreements to be signed at the conclusion of the five-day summit but in further improvements in Soviet-American relations after years of enmity.

In outlining Soviet hopes for the summit, which begins Sunday, Petrovsky, Akhromeyev and other senior officials emphasized Moscow’s desire to consolidate this new relationship with Washington. They hope to give it enough momentum to carry the arms negotiations and other matters through the U.S. election and the transition to a new Administration.


The transformation of Soviet-American relations in the past three years, they said, has changed the whole international climate and moved the world out of an era of confrontation toward cooperation.

‘Catalyst of Change’

The recent agreement on the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the treaty eliminating ground-launched intermediate-range nuclear weapons “demonstrate graphically that the dynamic dialogue between the Soviet Union and the United States can and should become an important catalyst of positive change in this interdependent world,” Petrovsky said.

Petrovsky and the other officials, all veterans of the ups and downs in Soviet-American relations over three decades, emphasized the importance of this summit--and mentioned the possibility of a further Gorbachev-Reagan meeting--in continuing what they regard as a remarkable transformation of relations between the superpowers.


“What has taken place in the last three years in Soviet-American relations has changed the international agenda,” said Georgy A. Arbatov, director of the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada. “Previously, our goals were more limited--to reduce tension, to steer events away from confrontation.

“Now, we have the possibility to move toward demilitarization in Soviet-American relations, to destroy the entire building and infrastructure of the Cold War erected in the postwar era. . . . The first steps have shown that it is possible to destroy the Cold War. When there is no enemy, then the whole structure of the Cold War starts to destroy itself.”

Savory Prospect

But Arbatov and other Soviet officials did savor the prospect of Reagan,long seen here as a cold warrior, coming to a country he once denounced as an “evil empire"--the first U.S. President to visit the Soviet Union since 1974.


The first years of the Reagan Administration were especially difficult, Arbatov commented, because of its determination to act only from a position of strength, its rejection of past negotiations and “a program to achieve military superiority.”

“The Reagan Administration has changed greatly in recent years,” he added. “And there is something symbolic that Reagan now comes with an olive branch to Moscow. But Reagan will be welcome in Moscow. We do not hold a grudge long.”

Arms control heads the Soviet agenda for the summit, and Moscow hopes for progress not only in the negotiations on reducing the superpowers’ strategic arsenals but also on reducing conventional forces in Europe, outlawing chemical weapons and ending nuclear weapons testing.

“Frankly,” Petrovsky said, “we are far apart on the sea-launched cruise missile, and this is where we really want progress. We realize that this is a difficult and sensitive question, but we have solved equally difficult issues before. The Soviet Union, for its part, is ready to work very hard to resolve the question and sign the treaty (on arms reduction) as soon as possible, with this Administration if we can.”


Reluctant to Hurry

But Moscow is as hesitant as Washington, the Soviet officials said, to rush into a flawed treaty simply to maintain the momentum of negotiations.

“That an agreement was not ready to be signed at the Moscow summit should not surprise anyone or disappoint anyone,” Petrovsky said. “This covers very difficult, very complicated issues. The future agreement on reducing strategic offensive weapons touches on the deepest aspects of the security of our two countries, and therefore it should be carefully polished to ensure a balance of interests and checked down to the smallest detail.”

Serious questions also remain, Petrovsky and Akhromeyev said, on the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative--the “Star Wars” program--which Moscow sees as vitiating any arms control agreement and wants Washington to abandon.


“We need to press ahead,” a Soviet arms control specialist said earlier this week. “We don’t want to go into a stall. We are afraid of the American political system and the way everything becomes paralyzed in an election year. We do not necessarily need pieces of paper from this summit, but we do want agreements, definitely.”

Regional Conflicts

Moscow’s other major priority in the Gorbachev-Reagan talks will be a broad discussion of regional conflicts, including the Middle East, the Iran-Iraq War, Cambodia and southern Africa.

“We believe that the summit should be used for an all-out elaboration of the mechanism to settle regional conflicts,” Petrovsky said, describing the agreement last month on the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan as a potential model for the resolution of such conflicts.


The focus of the next superpower effort should be the Middle East, Petrovsky suggested, arguing that a consensus is evolving on an international conference to search for a solution to the problem there.

Gorbachev will propose “practical actions” that the Soviet Union and the United States can take to “bring (the conference) out of the slogan stage into reality,” Petrovsky said, and added, “We should start organizing measures, steps to convene such a conference.”