The United States has asked the Soviet Union to bypass next week's nuclear arms control talks scheduled in Vienna between Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko, and resume discussions two weeks later in New York, it was learned.
Administration sources described the problem as "a rescheduling issue." They acknowledged, however, that there are difficult unresolved issues inside the Carter administration, as well as with the Soviet Union, on how to break the impasse blocking a new strategic arms limitation talks (SALT) accord.
Officially, the State Department said only that "as of now" the Vance talks with Gromyko in Vienna, set for Sept. 7-9, "are still on." "If there are any changes to be made," said State Department spokesman Hodding Carter III, "they will be announced."
If the Soviet Union agrees to the U.S. request, however, this meeting would be cancelled.
Ostensibly, the primary reason for passing over the Vienna meeting is the unusual gathering in Washington of up to 20 Latin American heads of state for the signing of the two new Panama Canal treaties here on Sept. 7. It would be unusual for a Secretary of State to be absent from such a major ceremony, officials emphasized.
But other informed sources acknowledged that the Carter administration wants and needs more time to work out the next stages of its steategy in the SALT negotiations.
There are differences to be resolved within the bureaucracy about how to proceed. But "this is not a big bureaucratic struggle," one source said last night.
"We just need more time to think this through" and "if the Russians are prepared to work the problem," there should be "no great tangle" over "'slipping' the discussions for two weeks or so."
While Secretary Vance was in Peking last week, Soviet Ambassador Anaoliy F. Dobrynin met twice with presidential national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and paul C. Warnke, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament agency and chief U.S. negotiator in the nuclear talks. Dobrynin then met with Vance on Monday, to continue the discussions.
Officials declined to discuss the substance of any of these talks. But there have been indications, U.S. sources said, that the Soviet Union would be amendable to skipping the meeting in Vienna, to give each side more time to explore the obstacles to a new SALT agreement.
The present five-year limitation on American and Soviet offensive nuclear forces expires on Oct. 3. President Carter and Vance have said, however, that they anticipate no serious difficulty in reaching agreement with the Soviet Union to continue the current accord if no new agreement is reached by that date.