The United States and the Soviet Union have agreed to resume their negotiations to reduce long-range nuclear weapons in mid-June, ending a six-month freeze imposed by the new Bush Administration, U.S. and Soviet officials said Wednesday.
The decision to resume the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, or START, was the main tangible result of a day of talks between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet officials that also produced a glimmer of hope for U.S.-Soviet cooperation in ending Third World conflicts from the Middle East to Central America.
"We are very pleased with the way things started," Baker told reporters midway through the first day of his first visit to the Soviet Union.
The spokesman for the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Gennady I. Gerasimov, said the Kremlin had high hopes for the talks and welcomed the Americans' new emphasis on Third World trouble spots.
"Dealing with regional problems will enable us to get the last of the Cold War behind us," he said.
At the same time, however, Gerasimov expressed the Soviet government's impatience with theBush Administration's slow approach to arms control, and jumped the gun on Baker by publicly announcing the agreement to resume the START talks a day before U.S. officials expected.
"We think our negotiators have had enough holidays," Gerasimov said. "We have lost a lot of time. While diplomats are on vacation, arms are piling up. We understand the specifics of the U.S. political system, but we regret the time lost. . . . We have lost six months."
The Reagan Administration negotiated the outline of a strategic arms agreement with the Soviet Union last year, agreeing on a reduction of roughly 50% in intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-armed manned bombers.
But the Bush Administration called off the scheduled resumption of the talks on Feb. 15, saying it needed more time to decide what new mobile missiles to build and to settle on a negotiating strategy.
In recent weeks, the Administration has decided to build limited numbers of both the MX and the Midgetman mobile missiles and has decided on a basic approach in negotiations: to cling to the essential positions the Reagan Administration held.
"We are ready to proceed in general on the basis of the work that has been done (in last year's START talks), and we expect the Soviets to see considerable continuity in our positions," an Administration official traveling with Baker said.
Resuming June 12 or 19
Gerasimov told reporters that the two sides had agreed to resume the talks in Geneva on either June 12 or June 19 and that the first round would probably last six weeks.
He said the Soviet Union had proposed that the talks begin this month, but the United States objected, saying that Bush's nominee as chief negotiator, Richard R. Burt, is unlikely to win Senate confirmation that soon.
Despite the broad agreement on cuts to 6,000 nuclear warheads and 1,600 delivery vehicles on each side, serious points of potential conflict remain, including the Soviet desire, resisted by the United States, to reduce sea-launched cruise missiles and restrict the Strategic Defense Initiative.
The Soviet government of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev has also been visibly uncomfortable with the Bush Administration's long pause in East-West diplomacy--and with the comments of some U.S. officials, notably Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, that Gorbachev's ambitious reform program is probably doomed to failure.
Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze pointedly raised Cheney's comments with Baker in their first meeting on Wednesday and was told by Baker that President Bush views the Soviet reform program, or perestroika , as "a very positive development," a U.S. official said.
"If we raised the subject (of Cheney's comments), it is not because we were offended in any way," Soviet spokesman Gerasimov said. ". . . The U.S. side assured us it was his personal opinion. We realize that Cheney needs more money for military programs--and how can he possibly obtain it if the Soviet threat is going away?"
Baker's initial meeting with Shevardnadze, scheduled for 25 minutes, lasted almost an hour--an encouraging sign, officials said.
Baker is scheduled to meet with Gorbachev today.
On the so-called regional issues, on which Baker aides said they wanted the meeting to focus, there was only fragmentary progress, U.S. officials said.
Soviet officials said they consider Israel's proposal for elections in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza strip "worthy of attention," a phrase that a U.S. official called "encouraging but not definite." But at the same time, Gerasimov told reporters that the Soviet Union would reject as "a deceit" any election that did not include the Palestine Liberation Organization.
A U.S. official said that his Soviet counterparts rebuffed a plea to the Kremlin to stop dealing with Libya and other countries that the United States considers to be terrorist states.
On Central America, Shevardnadze repeated the Kremlin's proposal for a total ban on arms shipments to the region, a proposal the United States has rejected. But officials on both sides said that some common ground had been reached, including a joint commitment to a negotiated peace in Nicaragua.
On Afghanistan, Shevardnadze again asked the United States to halt its military aid to the Muslim rebels fighting the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul. Baker reportedly turned that request aside but agreed that the two countries should talk about a possible peaceful resolution of the decade-old civil war.
On human rights, Gerasimov said the United States promised to seek the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the Trade Act if the Soviet Union's new and more liberal emigration policy is enshrined in law. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment ties U.S. trade to Soviet restrictions on Jewish emigration.
Baker's day in Moscow also included an unusual political event: a meeting between the secretary of state and three newly elected members of the Congress of People's Deputies, the first freely elected Soviet legislature since the 1917 revolution.
Baker, who managed Bush's 1988 presidential campaign, invited the three new legislators, all strong proponents of perestroika , to talk with him at the U.S. ambassador's residence.
Asked by reporters whether he believes the United States should work directly with the new congress--much as foreign governments approach Congress in Washington--Baker said: "Let's see how it evolves. Perhaps so."
Asked whether he plans to dispense any campaign advice, Baker smiled and said, "I might be getting some from them."