Three days of negotiations in the Kremlin produced only limited advances and failed to bridge the gap between the United States and the Soviet Union on a nuclear arms control pact, officials bluntly acknowledged last night.
Both sides made only marginal claims of positive results in Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's talks with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and other top officials. The two sides described the talks as "useful" and said the political climate was free of the grim confrontation tone of their first encounter a year ago. But there was a clear edge of impatience in a Brezhnev statement about the protracted pace of the strategic arms control talks (SALT).
"I caution you to be restrained." U.S. spokesman Hodding Carter told reporters as the talks ended with a two-hour meeting between Vance and Brezhnev, joined by Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and American Ambassador Malcolm Toon. "We are not in a breakthrough situation," the spokesman said.
There was little need for the admonition. It required seven hours of diplomatic haggling afterward to produce a joint statement which put the best light on the Thursday-to-Saturday discussions.
This statement, which even avoided the word "progress," was remarkably frank in diplomatic terms about the limited gains made. It described the nuclear bargaining here as "useful and thorough discussions" which resulted in "a narrowing of the parties positions on some of the remaining unresolved issues."
No target date was set for completing the nuclear accord, which was first outlined in principle by Brezhnev and former President Ford at Vladivostok in November 1974. The statement said only that "both sides expressed the intention to work intensively to conclude an agreement on the limitation of offensive strategic arms at the earliest possible time."
In a separate comment on Brezhnev's one meeting yesterday afternoon with Vance, the Soviet leader said through the news agency Tass that the talks "were useful" and that Brezhnev "emphasized the importance of energetic efforts from both sides to find mutually acceptable decisions on questions which still remain unresolved or not yet finally resolved."
Vance "felt that the atmosphere was good and that the talks were useful," said spokesman Carter. "Within the context of what he expected to achieve," that "has been achieved," said Carter. But Vance deliberately had set expectations quite low enroute to Moscow, saying that the most significant measuring rod would be the political atmosphere - which was frigid when he left the Kremlin 13 months ago.
On April 7, Brezhnev-speaking at Vladivostok, where he and Ford four years ago projected the new accord to replace and expand the limits on offensive nuclear weapons set in 1972 - said the Carter administration "shows indecision, inconsistency" in dragging out the nuclear talks.
Spokesman Carter said yesterday, however, that in the talks here "the secretary feels that the tone was good" without "discord or harsh characterizations."
Special American attention was focused on the health of Brezhnev, which appeared poor when he met Vance a year ago. Since then, there have been reports that Brezhnev had an electronic pacemaker installed.
Brezhnev, who did not appear in the current discussions until yesterday, met Vance, Toon and interpreter William Krimer in his Kremlin office. Brehznev was accompanied by Gromyko, security adviser A.M. Alexandrov and interpreter Victor, Sukhodrev.
In a repetition of a dispute last year over permitting photographers and reporters to see Brezhnev briefly - but with more restrictive result - only seven American news personnel were admitted to his office. Berzhnev looked better than a year ago, all agreed, but with his face more puffed and his speech quite slurred as before.
When asked, in Russian, if the Vance visit had improved relations, Brezhnev replied "they want to know everything even before we sit down to talk." Will there be a Carter-Brezhnev summit this year? he was asked. Brezhnev, who wears a hearing aid, turned to Gromyko, who eventually replied "We are silent."
Brezhnev then looked at Vance and said, "Mr. Vance knows better whether there will be a meeting."
Later, American spokesman Carter said there are "no plans, to date" for summit talks.
Carter told reporters that Vance found Brezhnev "in good health" and more vigorous than last time - stronger."
Vance will be making comments on the talks' outcome when he departs from Moscow today for an overnight stop in London and brief talks there before returning to Washington to report to the president.
Last night, Vance appeared at ease as he and Mrs. Vance enjoyed a sparkling performance of the "Nutcracker Suite" ballet at the Bolshoi Theater, with Soviet Ambassador to Washington Anatoliy Dobrynin rather than Gromkyo serving as host.
A U.S. official said that the advances made in narrowing issues in the nuclear negotiations are being passed on to the regular American Soviet negotiating teams in Geneva. Without disclosing details, spokesman Carter said there has been "some movement" on the unresolved issues. He acknowledged that none of the three mmost difficult items has been resolved.
These are described on the American side as:
Limitations on the Soviet Backfire bomber, which the Russians insists is a medium - range bomber but which American strategists say has range enough to attack the United States.
Limitations on improving each side's present intercontinental nuclear delivery systems or adding new ones.
Restrictions on the transfer of nuclear technology to other nations, notably Soviet attempts to prevent the United States from transferring technology for developing long-range cruise missiles to its Western allies. They are anxious to have the missiles to defend Western Europe from Soviet attack.
Vance also reviewed overall U.S. Soviet relations, ranging from the Middle East to ongoing negotiations with the Soviet Union and Britain for a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing. Since 1963, the three nations have restricted nuclear testing to underground blasts but that has allowed a continuing arms race.
Wide differences were explored by Brezhnev and Vance on Africa policy. In a speech last month, President Carter described the projection of Soviet power and Cuban troops into the Horn of Africa conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia as "ominous" for international stability if similar foreign power is used elsewhere in "local conflicts."
Spokesman Carter would say only that Brezhnev and Vance "had an extended discussion on Africa."