The Soviet Union would be willing to remove its air bases from Eastern Europe if NATO forces call off plans to base F-16 fighter-bombers in Italy, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev said Monday.
Gorbachev made the proposal in a speech to the Polish Parliament as he began a six-day trip here. Departing from his prepared text, he also suggested informal talks with Western powers--a sort of European summit--in order to find a way to break the impasse in negotiations on a conventional arms agreement.
"I would like to state," Gorbachev said, "that if (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) shows such readiness, we can discuss the problem of the lack of balance (in conventional forces) before the start of official talks about the data concerning troops."
The two sides have had 24 rounds of talks on the issue in Vienna but have never agreed on a formula to establish the size of their respective military forces in Europe. Western negotiators say that Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces far outnumber NATO forces, and the deadlock has left the negotiations stalled at the starting point.
Gorbachev repeated a Soviet proposal for an initial withdrawal of 500,000 troops on each side, followed by more talks and an exchange of data on the number of troops deployed by each side.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner issued a statement indicating skepticism about the Gorbachev proposal on the U.S. F-16s.
"We are committed to establishing a stable and secure balance of conventional forces at lower levels in Europe," Woerner said. "A focus on aircraft does not meet this central requirement."
Gorbachev, in calling for the all-European conference on conventional arms, referred to the "cleansing impact" of his October, 1986, summit meeting in Iceland with President Reagan, which focused on arms control issues.
"Perhaps it would be worth organizing a sort of pan-European Reykjavik, a meeting of leaders of all European countries with the aim of discussing only one problem: how to break the vicious circle to ensure passing from words to deeds in the area of conventional arms reductions," he said.
In addition to disarmament issues, Gorbachev's remarks to the Polish lawmakers, carried by Polish television, emphasized his commitment to reforming Soviet socialism.
"Two weeks ago," he said, "Moscow ended the 19th (Communist) party congress. I will not be exaggerating if I say the whole country followed this very closely. It showed that perestroika (his campaign to restructure Soviet political and economic systems) is alive and that it is the work of the people. . . . It showed how the country has changed over the past three years. . . .
"Now, times have changed. Now, it is time for fierce discussion of the issues and for listening to broad opinion. This is a good, healthy process and shows that the revolutionary spirit is being born again in the party."
No Mention of Massacre
Some Poles were disappointed that Gorbachev made no direct mention of an old and deep wound in relations between the two countries--the massacre of about 4,000 Polish army officers during World War II in a forest near the Soviet village of Katyn.
This and other sore points between the two countries, whose relations through the centuries have been marked by suspicion and often bitterness, are referred to as "blank spots" in their official histories.
"One cannot change history," Gorbachev said, "but one can and should draw conclusions from it."
He pointed out that a joint Polish-Soviet historical commission is looking into "the complex moments called 'blank spots,' based more on emotion than historical knowledge," and added that "we must examine the facts."
In an era when Soviet historians are detailing the misdeeds of dictator Josef Stalin, some Polish officials had hoped that Gorbachev, in a gesture that could win some approval from a generally cool and distrustful Polish public, would list Katyn as another Stalinist brutality. Gorbachev did not go that far, however.
"We condemn Stalinist repressions," he said. "As is known, they also covered many Polish Communists."
A student organization, officially banned but active at Warsaw University, hoisted a banner near the site of one of Gorbachev's ceremonial appearances Monday. The banner bore the message: "We demand the truth about Katyn and reparations for deportees." Thousands of Poles, including the party leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, were deported to the Soviet Union during World War II.
Jaruzelski and his wife, Barbara, accompanied Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, through most of the day's events, which included wreath layings at three monuments and a visit to the Polish Communist Party headquarters.
At several points, Gorbachev's motorcade stopped so that the Soviet leader, following his well-known style, could get out and shake hands with spectators.
The stopping points were clearly prearranged by his nervous Polish hosts, unaccustomed to spontaneous gestures by political leaders.
Young women rushed forward with large bouquets of flowers, and at every stop a dozen spectators stood ready with new copies of Gorbachev's book, "Perestroika." Gorbachev willingly autographed the copies and amiably received the expressions of welcome, while Jaruzelski, to whom such activity seemed utterly foreign, stood stiffly behind him, almost unnoticed.
Jaruzelski also spoke to Parliament and, echoing Gorbachev, referred to the "mutual distrust" that has characterized relations between the two countries. His comments were a recognition of the depth of Polish feelings toward the Russians that grew out of the war and the two-year Nazi-Soviet alliance that caught Poland in between.
"The years 1939 to 1941 were a difficult, tragic chapter," Jaruzelski said. "They left known and unknown Polish graves in the Soviet land. We are aware there were not only Polish graves. They are . . . a site of common mourning for our peoples. . . .