The Kremlin reacted angrily yesterday to President Carter's neutron warhead decision, saying Carter is trying to "connect" its possible deployment to "the Soviet Union's defense potential" in a way that has "nothing to do with neutron weapons."
The Soviet leadership spoke through Tass, the official government news agency. The reaction was in a four-paragraph item that Western observers here said was predictable. The Soviets have been campaigning for Carter to renounce deployment of the weapon.
On Friday, the president announced he was deferring deployment pending Soviet moves in such areas as its own upgrading of nuclear weapons, conventional forces and diplomatic-military maneuvering elsewhere in the world.
Reported Tass: "The president, clearly seeking to get from the Soviet Union concessions on other unrelated matters, tried to connect the ultimate decision on renunciation of production of neutron weapons in the U.S. with measures for consolidation of the Soviet Union's defense potential that have nothing to do with neutron weapons."
The Kremlin further complained that Carter "made no mention of the Soviet Union's clear-cut proposal to agree on a reciprocal basis not to produce, stockpile or deploy neutron weapons anywhere."
Carter's move to defer deployment makes explicit the bargaining power inherent in the neutron, or enhanced radiation, warhead. The device creates little blast but high, lethal radiation over a wide area. Western strategic planners say its use on European battlefields could blunt the 3-to-1 tank advantage the Soviet tactical forces now have over NATO countries.
Whether or how the Soviets will fully respond to Carter's move is sure to emerge in the next few days. It normally takes the Kremlin Politburo some time to work out an official and authoritative response to such American or other foreign moves.
Diplomatic sources here were predicting Soviet bluster and denunciation as a major ingredient. The Soviets have assiduously cultivated a posture of shocked outrage over the new weapon since it first became publicly reported in the West last summer. Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev had proposed a moratorium by both countires on the weapon.
In the view of some here, it was a Soviet ploy to get the Americans to give up something the Soviets themselves did not have.
The issue is sure to be sharpened, with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance due here for Kremlin talks on strategic arms limitations beginning April 19.