The U.S.-Soviet cultural and educational exchange agreement signed this week in Geneva mandates a number of government-sponsored exchanges as well as encouraging more private cultural visits between the two countries.

In the six years since a U.S.-Soviet formal agreement elapsed, U.S. and Soviet performers have made private visits. John Denver and Bob Dylan, for example, toured the Soviet Union in the past year. A Soviet tennis team is currently touring this country.

But the new agreement provides for and facilitates more access between the two nations -- "Soviet society is relatively closed and this is a way of ensuring a certain level of U.S. culture is seen in the Soviet Union," said one State Department official. It will also ensure that a level of Soviet culture is seen here.

"This is a facilitating document that encourages even more exchanges," said Janet Hemming of the public liaison office at the United States Information Agency.

The agreement specifically calls for exchanges of at least 10 individual performers and 10 performing arts groups from each country.

"The selection process on our side is very open," said Hemming. "Nominations can come from our embassies, from Congress, from private citizens, from musical groups or artists themselves, from people here . . . at USIA."

U.S. nominees will be "screened by three groups," said Hemming. "The National Endowment for the Arts -- there is a peer review group that will look over potential nominees -- USIA and, in the Soviet Union, a group called Goskonsert the Soviet state concert committee . That triumvirate will make the final selections."

In addition, the governments "will assist exchanges of theatrical, musical, choreographic ensembles, orchestras and other performing and artists' groups." The governments have also agreed to facilitate and encourage exchanges in the natural sciences, education, humanities, radio and television.

The State Department official predicted that in addition to the specific government-sponsored exchanges, there will be privately sponsored trips of groups ranging from high school bands to professional ballet companies. "Without that agreement, the Soviets were reluctant to permit private exchanges," said the official.

According to a fact sheet released by the White House, "exchange programs can also help break down barriers, lessen distrust, reduce the levels of secrecy, and bring forth a more open world."

The last U.S.-Soviet cultural agreement expired in 1979, and new negotiations ended after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that year. One sticking point then was Soviet insistence on a guarantee against defections -- which the United States rejected. There is no such guarantee in the Geneva agreement.

"If the Soviet Union didn't make it so difficult for them to go out and come back, they would have far fewer defectors," said pianist Eugene Istomin, who has performed in the Soviet Union. Istomin recently returned from Budapest, where he attended the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to discuss cultural exchanges. "That's my private opinion. Sometimes we try to make political defectors out of people who are not."