Incoming Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance expects to go to Moscow, probably in March, to speed up the stalled nuclear strategic arms limitation talks, it was learned yesterday.
The projected Vance visit to meet with Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev would be in addition to the previously disclosed Vance trip to the Middle East, about late February, to stimulate new Arab-Israeli peace talks.
There also may be other Vance trips to meet world leaders early in the Carter administration, informed sources said.
This suddenly emerging pattern is a reversal of the intentions expressed by President Carter and by Vance, when Vance's appointment was announced on Dec. 3.
At that time, Carter, who had strongly criticized outgoing Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger's brand of personalized global diplomacy, said, "I think the amount of travel that Mr. Vance would do would be fairly minimal." Vance said he would travel "when necessary," but that basically he would "delegate responsibility to carry the ball as far as they can before the Secretary of State gets involved."
When asked what caused the shift in travel plans, Carter administration sources yesterday gave several rationalizations.
A "change in optics" occurred, it is said, as the President and his new Secretary of State came closer to taking office and got deeper into the operations of government.
Also, "the experience of the Kissinger times" left its own strong mark on the pattern of diplomacy, the Carter people acknowledged. They still insist, however, that there is no intention of duplication the full Kissinger style of operations.
Carter and Vance originally believed they could operate largely on the basis of having foreign leaders come to Washington, while the Carter administration sent aboard lower-level negotiators or "fact finders."
Initially, only one early foreign trip was announced, by Vice President Mondale. He leaves Sunday for Western Europe and Japan as President Carter's first special envoy to allied leaders.
It is now acknowledged that the Carter administration, especially in recent weeks, also began exploring the groundwork for travel by Vance to make other world leaders "aware of the fact that we have new policies."
Vance's travel, it is said, will be on "a case-by-case basis," rather than a fixed pattern. Kissinger undoubtedly would have said the same of his own travel. The major difference presently claimed between the Vance and Kissinger travel is that Vance will not engage in "shuttle diplomacy," or prolonged personal negotiations and will depend to a far greater extent on selected negotiators.
No date has been fixed for Vance's trip to Moscow, which depends on Soviet preferences, but a visit toward the end of March is being considered. The current thinking in the Carter administration is that it will take at least some weeks to review the complex SALT negotiations, and sort out internal differences in the bureaucracy that helped to stall the talks.
The Carter administration's problems in resolving this inherited dispute between the Senate and Defense departments may now be compounded on Capitol Hill, insiders agree, by the intensified alarm raised in the Ford administration's final days about the future threat of Soviet "military superiority."
Present intentions are to use the Vance trip to Moscow as the takeoff point for completing negotiations on a SALT II accord on limiting offensive strategic nuclear weapons. The current, five-year agreement, signed at the first Moscow summit conference in 1972, will expire Oct. 3.
President Carter has committed himself to completing a new agreement by that time, probably to be climaxed at a summit meeting with Brezhnev in Washington. A prospectus prepared by the Carter transition team projects a U.S.-Soviet summit in September or October.
In his inaugural address yesterday, President Carter said, "We will move this year a step toward our ultimate goal - the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this earth." The planned SALT II accord in its present form, however, is essentially a freeze ductions left to a SALT II negotiation.