When Cyrus Vance arrives here this week for what could be crucial talks with the Soviets on limiting strategic nuclear weapons, he will confront a Krelim leadership that for months has not budged from its insistence that only American concessions can bring about a new treaty.
This has been the unbroken theme of official utterances, from party chief and President Leonid Brezhnev to the lowliest official Tass press agency commentator.
The Krelim has made clear it believes relations between the two superpowers have come to a low point that can be rescued by progress toward an agreement. But there seems to be no appreciation here of the notion that the Soviets themselves might be partly to blame for the low state of affairs between the two countries.
As if to underscore its endorsement of the upcoming talks, the Politburo yesterday went on record again as favoring a positive result during the sessions. Pravda, the official Communist newspaper, reported the Politburo's resolution, which asserts "a big step" toward world disarmament would be conclusion between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. of a long term agreement" on SALT.
The Soviet perception of President Carter is not something that one can learn directly, but the steadfastness of the Krelim's SALT position seems to suggest they sense weakness or indecision in the White House. Brezhnev and others have asserted that American vacillation has led to delays in the negotiations.
One source gave this view of Carter: "A man without solid successes, who has begun many initiatives and made many suggestions, but from the point of view of accomplishments, has nothing."
This person is not part of the inner hierarchy - such persons don't speak privately with Western journalist. But the source's perspective, based on his position within the party, is surely a reflection of some segments of official thinking.
When the Carter administration recently suggested there is a "linkage" between Soviet actions in Africa and the climate of a SALT negotiation, the Kremlin responded with outrage. This is perhaps explained partly by the fact that the present Soviet leadership is the same group of men who found themselves able in 1972 to negotiate the first SALT treaty with an American president who was at that moment continuing to wage massive war with the North Vietnamese, staunch Kremlin allies.
The seeming immobility of the Soviet position may in part be a result of its relative success in propagandizing against the neutron weapon. The controversy about it in Western Europe and the lengthy delay by Carter before deciding to defer production caused political difficulties for America's NATO allies that the Soviets are eager to exploit.
The long time Carter took for the decision may be interpreted by the leadership here as a sign that the president is vulnerable and weak.
The neutron weapon is scheduled to come up in the talks, since the president has made its permanent cancellation contingent upon Soviet restraint in weapons and military diplomacy. But although the Politburo has endorsed anew the idea of successful arms limitation talks, the leadership continued to denounce the neutron weapon and the president's decision.
The Soviet would very much like to avoid having to produce such a device or its battlefield equivalent, such as more SS-20 mobile missiles, for reasons of cost. Though there have been continued improvements in the Soviet economy. Brezhnev, like Khrushchev before him, has been unable to solve the country's agricultural problems. Massive amounts of capital are need if the country is to achieve the ability to consistently feed itself.
The Soviet economy, much weaker than that of the United States, has been retarded by the need to achieve parity with America in strategic weapons. Promises for improved consumer goods have been made by Brezhnev and others and then not kept, in part because of the demands of strategic weapons production. An arms treaty would give economic planners a little more flexibility in dealing, with the domestic problems.
The agenda between Vance and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and Brezhnev also will include the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, talks on a comprehensive test ban treaty, and mutual force reductions in Europe.
In recent weeks, Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam has conferred with the Soviet leadership and reports continue to circulate that Angola leader Agostinho Neto is in the country, undergoing treatment for a serious illness. In addition, Cuba's foreign minister is scheduled for high-level talks here, all of which suggests to some that the Kremlin is planning an expansion of its role as arms purveyor and battlefield adviser to African states. This adds a certain sharpness to the prospect of talks on Soviet African policies.
The basic SALT issues upon which the talks have bogged down cover a range of items. The Soviets do not conduct public discussions of such matters, though their general position that it must be the Americans who give way is repeated almost daily.
The issues include the question of range and number limitations on the Soviet Backfire supersonic bomber, range limitations on the American Cruise missile; limits on technological upgrading of existing offensive weapons systems; introduction of improved and new offensive missiles; verification of compliance, and such ploys to work around the treaty, as transfering missiles or bombers to allies.
If progress can be made on some of these issues, then the continuing technical talks at Geneva, where treaty language is being haggled over, will be refreshed. Continued progress also raises the possibility that Gromyko would go to New York to attend next month's special United Nations session on disarmament.