Detente? There's still a ways to go.
Eavesdrop, if you will, on the conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Richard Burt and three unidentified correspondents from the Soviet Union's official news agency Tass. It took place at the reception Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin gave yesterday to celebrate the 67th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution:
Tass: We want to welcome you to our embassy.
Burt: It's not your embassy.
Tass: It's the Soviet Embassy.
Burt: You're reporters.
Tass: With Tass News Agency but also Soviet citizens . . .
Tass: Why are you so aggressive?
Burt: Why am I so aggressive? It's my personal style.
Moving quickly, the dialogue turned to a discussion about what "specific proposals" the Reagan administration would make to improve relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Burt: Like the arms control proposals, efforts to solve regional conflicts, but you have to meet us halfway. You know, people have argued that some of the milder rhetoric of the Reagan administration is the result only of the campaign. But as long ago as last January the president laid out his agenda for improving relations and that agenda is still a sound agenda.
Tass: He used the term "evil empire."
Burt: Ahhh no, are you telling me the Soviet empire has never done anything that's evil?
Tass: Well, we are coming from different ends. I would say no, you would say yes.
Burt: What I think you should do before you get too worried about that kind of rhetoric is look at some of your own rhetoric. You're a newsman. Let's look at some of the things you've said about the president, look at some of the things you've said about the secretary of state, and look at some of the things you actually said about me. You know, Tass has called me a petty snooper and a dope, this in the last year. I've been called a dope, I've been called brainless and I've been called a petty snooper.
Tass: Not brainless, no.
Burt: I have a saying, an old American saying, that if you dish it out you gotta learn to take it. I think your propaganda machine has been dishing it out for years and years and years, and suddenly we've got a president and an administration that's started giving a little bit of it back, and you didn't like it. You compared the president to Adolf Hitler.
The Tass trio shook their heads in unison.
Burt: Sure you did. Listen, I'll tell you something you may not know, I don't take your stuff that seriously. The western press doesn't.
Burt's attention was drawn elsewhere and he turned away.
Tass, in an aside: Write this, "He hastened to retreat."
So it went as hundreds stood in line yesterday to shake hands with Dobrynin, his wife, Irina, their granddaughter Kathy, and other embassy officials, the largest turnout at a Soviet national day reception in recent years.
The ranking American present was the State Department's No. 3 man, Undersecretary of State Michael H. Armacoast, whose presence, according to State Department spokesman John Hughes, signified the "appropriate level of representation given the state of the relationship."
Nobody quite pinned down that relationship, however.
Said Hughes: "I think there are probably more Americans from the State Department here than last year. I don't know what that signals. The fact is, we had Mr. Gromyko here and the president was making a very vigorous effort to engage in a dialogue with the Soviet Union."
Said Oleg Sokolov, No. 2 man at the embassy: "We'll have to wait until something more tangible than words is in the picture . . . We have a program laid out in interviews and speeches by Chairman Chernenko and a speech today by Gromyko at the Kremlin. So far as we are concerned, the program is clear. We would like to see movement on the American side."
Said Richard Allen, former national security adviser to President Reagan: "President Reagan said last night he's going to make arms reduction the highest priority of a new administration, and I believe that. I don't know what the Soviets want, but I think they'll be meeting. The Soviets have to recognize that there is no alternative to talking to Ronald Reagan until Jan. 21, 1989."
The ambassadors of Sri Lanka, France, Cyprus, Finland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan, China, Egypt, Hungary, Portugal and Tunisia, among others, showed up. So did Brent Scowcroft, denying that he will be come "czar" of U.S. arms control, and former senator George McGovern, who told of voting for the first time in the District of Columbia.
The reception started at noon and featured a large buffet table laden with Russian foods that were entirely consumed by 1 p.m. In the center of the table, done in caviar, was an oversized number "67," representing the years since the October revolution. It lasted 15 minutes.