In the first official appraisal of U.S.-Soviet relations following important strategic arms talks here last week, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev said yesterday that "some progress" had been made on this central issue between the superpowers.
While saying that there are still major compromises to be made, Brezhnev asserted, "I believe, however, by reciprocal efforts based on sensible and realistic compromise we can complete the drafting of an agreement that will justly take into account the security interests of both powers."
Brezhnev said that in a reference to Secretary of State Cyprus Vance's effort here last week to achieve a SALT breakthrough, "some progress was made in working out an agreement on strategic arms limitation."
Brezhnev's speech was in marked contrast to one he delivered April 7 on a Soviet cruiser in Vladivostsok in which he accused the Carter administration of stalling on SALT through "indecision and inconsistency."
Yesterday Brezhnev declared, "We are gratified to note that definite progress has been made in these talks of late. We would like to hope that the matter will be brought to completion and that a treaty will be signed in the near future. This will be an appreciable achievement in the struggle for peace and international security."
The Soviet leader's conciliatory tone on SALT was coupled with a reaffirmation of Moscow's intentions to continue its present policy in Africa nd reiteration of his offer not to engage in the production of neutron weapons "as long as the United States does not do so."
Western analysts were less enthusiastic about these comments since they did not suggest new restraint on the part of Moscow.
Apparently rebuffing U.S. criticism of the Kremlin's behavior in Africa, Brezhnev made it clear that the Russians are not about to change their policy. He said there were no contradiction between detente and Moscow's Africa policy and that "imperialist propaganda" was making this point in an effort to "distort the meaning and goals of Soviet foreign policy."
Brezhnev's remarks on the neutron weapon were promptly described by President Carter in Washington as having "no meaning, no significance at all."
Clearly the United States had expected a more substantial move by the Soviets when Carter decided to hold off the production of the neutron weapon to give Moscow an opportunity to make a meaningful response.
Brezhnev delivered his one and a half hour speech to a meeting of Young Komsomols, cadres of the Communist Party who are not yet party members.
Western diplomatic sources assessed the speech as one which signals what they hope will be a major upturn in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets have taken an aggressive, critical line against the Carter administration almost from the time it took office last year.
Yesterday's speech is in marked contrast to the Soviet denunciations of a year ago when Vance laid out radical new proposals for cutting back strategic arms which the Soviets firmly rejected.
That mission by Vance, the first major foreign policy initiative by the ledgling Carter administration, was seen by the Soviets as an attempt to insure U.S. superiority in nuclear missiles and other strategic weapons systmes at the expense of the U.S.S.R.
At that time, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko bitterly denounced the American proposal the moment Vance had left here to fly back to America.
Vance had come to Moscow last year announcing well ahead of time what the Americans would propose.
This time, Vance was close mouthed and cautious both about what he was proposing and how the Soviets were reacting. This approach is much more in line with the way the Kremlin operates. Vance's altered stance clearly made an impression on the Soviets.
The Carter administration has talked about "linking" Soviet military ventures in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere with SALT. The Soviets are reported to have more than 1,000 officers and some 37,000 troops of their Cuban allies stationed in both Angola and Ethiopia. These forces recently spearheaded a successful Ethiopian military operation clearing that country's Ogaden region of invading guerilla and regular troops from neighbor Somalia.
A similar earlier operation in Angola has made it clear to the American government that the Soviet influence has become a permanent ingredient in sub-Saharan Africa which threatens American influence there.
The Carter administration has been worried that the Soviets and their Cuban allies may next move into the complicated Rhodesia situation, where London and Washington are trying to arrange a peaceful transition to black majority rule.
Vance during his visit here discussed Africa in an effort to dissuade the Soviets from using their military resources in the continent's regional conflicts. Brezhnev made it clear yesterday, however, that Vance's argument did not make an impression here.
While the tone of Brezhnev's remarks on SALT seemed to echo Vance's cautious optimism upon his return to Washington, the Soviet leader's restatement of the Jan. 23 offer not to build the neutron weapon appeared to be largely a propaganda device.
Without mentioning Carter's linkage of delaying the manufacture of neutron weapons and Soviet maneuverings, Brezhnev said: "This of course does not settle the matter and is at best a half measure. But I can inform you that we have taken the president's statement into account and that we, too, will not begin production of neutron arms so long as the United States does not do so. Further developments will depend on Washington."