The Soviet Union made no official comment today on President Carter's surprise decision to halt production of the B-1 strategic bomber, a major weapons system at issue between the two superpowers. Tass, the official government news agency, reported the B-1 decision without comment.
But in recent days, as the President's self-imposed June deadline for a decision drew near. Communist Party members in private conversations with Americans maintained an air of pessimism about Carter's inclinations.
The government newspaper Izvestia, in a commentary today that was written before the President's decision, indicated it thought he would order a go-ahead on the bomber. The commentator wrote that there is "sufficient basis to believe that he has no serious intention to conflict with the Congress on questions of arms." Congress has voted new money for B-1 production.
Ever since the collapse of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's arms negotiations mission here in the spring, the Soviets have maintained that the Americans must take the initiative in resuming SALT negotiations. Party officials in private talks refused to speculate about the effect a decision to halt the B-1 might have. One party member responded recently to such a question: "But since it has not happened, it is not up to us to say what could be next."
The Tass report on the B-1 decision was a two-paragraph dispatch that noted that the President had decided "to deploy the latest kind of strategic weapons, cruise missiles, that are one of the main obstacles on the road to concluding a new Soviet-American strategic offensive arms limitation agreement."
It added that Carter "suggested it is necessary to keep from starting batch production of the new bombers and expressed the hope that the Congress will back his decision."
The cruise missile system, now in advanced testing, poses acute defensive problems to any country against which it is deployed.
Small and extremely accurate, the missile can be launched from the ground, the air, or below the sea. The B-1 is a four-engine swing-wing plane that could attack with nuclear bombs either from tree-top level at near-sonic speeds, or from high altitude at supersonic speeds. Both weapons systems have been centerpieces of the arms negotiations.
Earlier today, the Soviet government confirmed through Tass that preliminary talks for a summit meeting between Carter and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev have taken place. The one-paragraph report showed continuing irritation here at the nature of the Carter-style diplomacy. The White House in a press release Tuesday had announced that "President Carter and President Brezhnev have both expressed a desire to meet."
Tass put it this way:
"In connection with the official announcement for the press by a spokesman for the White House on a possible meeting between Leonid Brezhnev and James Carter. Tass has at its disposal information that the question was raised by the U.S. side and its discussion was of a preliminary character."
Despite the irritation, Western diplomatic sources here report that they are confident the Soviets and Americans are together reaching for ways to begin talking again. An interim arms limitation agreement expires this fall.