President Carter has invited members of Congress influential on nuclear arms control to a White House meeting this morning, coinciding with the resumption of high-level American-Soviet talks in Geneva.
Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko today in Geneva will open several days of discussion centered on strategic arms limitation talks (SALT) and the Middle East.
In advance of the Vance-Gromyko negotiations, there is no open sign that either the Unites States or the Soviet Union is ready to shift from their opposing nuclear positions. In Moscow, in March, both sides rejected each other's proposals for moving toward a SALT accord to replace the present temporary agreement on offensive nuclear weapons which expires on Oct. 3.
There is a great contrast in the public seting for the ill-fated Kremlin meetings in March, the first for the Carter administration, and this week's Geneva talks.
The March meeting began with a blaze of public attention, and ended in unusual recriminations. The Soviet Union charged, and the United States denied, that the Carter administration's innovative preference for early "deep cuts" in nuclear force levels were cast in terms that would put the Russians at a lopsided disadvantage.
In the intervening months, the nuclear talks have continued in Washington under very tight secrecy, the public rhetoric on both sides has subsided markedly, and that Carter administration so far has avoided raising any expectations at all for the outcome in Geneva. Vance has said that he does not want to characterize his new talks with Gromyko "in terms of hope or lack of hope."
Carter's decision to invite members of Congress to the White House today inevitably aroused speculation that today's Vance-Gromyko meeting in Geneva might be timed to a change in the U.S. or Soviet bargaining position.
There was no official indication, however, of any modification in either side's position. On the contrary, Vance said on May 4 that since the Moscow talks, "We have put no new proposals on the table, not have they (the Soviet Union). We have merely reviewed the existing proposals."
Defense Secretary Harold Brown similarly said, two days later, that "I think that we are going to pursue both of our proposals," for a limited accord and a comprehensive accord, despite the earlier Soviet rejection.
Among those invited to today's 10 a.m. White House meeting are Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John C. Stennis (D-Miss.), and Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D.-Wash.), influential chairman of that group's Arms Control Subcommittee.
Jackson is an honorary co-chairman of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, which last weekend urged President Carter to adhere firmly to the "hang tough" position which Carter announced when the Moscow talks broke down in March. The [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the coalition told Carter, will only cease "stonewalling" when they[WORD ILLEGIBLE] that they cannot successfully brow-beat you - and us . . ."
Administration officials have acknowledge however, that they are seeking "a synthesis" of the currently stalemated positions, which would center initially on a limited agreement.
The Soviet position is that priority must be given to completing the accord projected at Vladivostok in 1974. The Soviet version would limit each side's intercontinental missiles and bombers to 2,400, plus strict limits on American long-range cruise missiles and assurances that the Soviet bombers known as Backfire will not be used against the United States.
As a short-term "deferral" alternative, the limited U.S. option would confirm the 2,400 force level (or small reductions in it which the Soviets might now accept, perhaps a 10 per cent cut), but set aside the cruise missile-Backfire dispute. The U.S. preference is a "comprehensive plan" to reduce strategic missiles and bombers from 2,400 on a side to between 1,800 and 2,000 and to put other curbs on existing and future forces.
Central to any compromise is a resolution of the cruise missile dispute. Champions of this new weapon, who include Jackson, are determined to avoid any major concession to the Russians on its development.
Vance, who was in Europe during and after Carter's recent visit, returned to this country briefly to attend his son's graduation from Yale University. Vance left New York yesterday, en route to Geneva, via Paris, for several days of talks with Gromyko.
In Geneva, one Vance-Gromyko formality will be signing a convention, endorsed by the United Nations, to outlaw "environmental warface" - hostile modication of the climate through rain-making or other means to damage another nation.