Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance said yesterday he hopes that Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev's criticism of the Carter administration "will not inhibit our conservations when I go to Moscow on Friday."
Brezhnev's indignant riposte in what he scroned as "Washington's claims to teach others how to live immediately achieved one of its objectives: It seized the attention of U.S. strategists in the crucial week of preparing for the Carter administration's first top-level talks with the leaders of the Kremlin.
Almost inevitably, American analysts in private week divided in their assessments of what the Brezhnev speech portends, depending on whether they are optimists or pessimists.
The optimistic assessment in Washington was that Brezehnev's remarks, while "sharp and tough," carefully "foreclosed no options" on the most critical issue, nuclear arms control.
By this hopeful reckoning, it is argued that Brezhnev, by making a frontal challenge to the Carter administration's stand on human rights, was nevertheless "clearing the air" before Vance's arrival to permit hard bargaining to take place on other major policy issues.
Brezhnev, it is said, was responding to the President - on SALT, the Middle East, on trade, and on crubing the world traffic in arms.
The skeptics take a sterner view. Brezhnev, in their judgement, was telling President Carter personally, in a "pained and somber" tone, that he and his fellow leaders in the Kremlin profoundly resent "outright attempts by official American bodies to interfer in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union."
Brezhnev, by this assessment, was literally cautioning Carter that unless his administration curbs what "Brezhnev deplored as its "hullabaloo" about human rights in Communist nations, and displays "at least a minimum of mutual tact," that U.S.-Soviet relations will freeze up.
Both the optimists and pessimists on the U.S. side agree on one point. In either case, Brezhnev was employing a favorite Soviet tactic of putting the onus on its adversary just before a crucial meeting.
By charging that the Carter administration's "first two months" in office have failed to overcome "stagnation" in U.S.-Soviet relations, Brezhnev set the stage for Vance rather than the Soviet Union, to produce intitiatives.
What matters the most is that it is, the relatively optimistic view of the Brezhnev speech that prevailed yesterday at the top echelon of the Carter administration.
That is, there was no indication of any remorse about the determined pattern of U.S. actions on human rights that has infuriated the Soviets. On the contrary, administration sources cited in justification of Carter administration policy on this contested subject what they maintain is the Soviet parallel of U.S. emphasis on human rights. They cited Brezhnev's statement that "We (the Soviets) have quite a definite opinion about the order reigning in the world of imperialism, and do not conceal this opinion."
Said one administration source: "The Russians can't have it both ways," criticizing U.S. actions and justifying their own.
At the same time, these administration sources, who hold the controlling view inside the government, said their reading of Brezhnev's position is that the Soviet Union 'is prepared to negotiate. Brezhnev, it was said, "set out some interesting and significant positions," which represent "a serious answer" to some of President Carter's overtures.
A National Security Council meeting is scheduled at the White House today, on U.S. strategy for the Moscow talks.
White House press secretary Jody Powell, after conferring with the President, said he had no immediate comment on the substance of Brezhnev's remarks. But, Powell said, there are indications that the Soviet Union believes that Vance's trip is an important step toward reducing the threat of nuclear destruction and easing the burden of the global arms race.
Vance, talking briefly with reporters after lunch with Japanese Premier Takeo, Fukuda, avoided any comment on Brezhnev's condemnation of "interference in our (Soivet) internal affairs."