The Carter administration, in a continuation of the war of wills between the United States and the Soviet Union, yesterday summoned four Soviet correspondents to the White House to review their rights to press credentials here.
Deputy White House press secretary Walter Wurfel, who met with the Soviets for about 20 minutes, declined to say publicly why the unusual discussion was held. But a White House official involved in foreign relations said privately the session was a reaction to recent Soviet legal actions against Americans working in the Soviet Union.
Two American reporters in Moscow, Craig Whitney of The New York Times and Harold Piper of The Baltimore Sun, were charged with slander two weeks ago in a civil suit brought by the Soviet agency governing broadcasting.
That suit was the latest link in a chain of action and reaction that has marked souring U.S.-Soviet relations this year.
Neither the White House nor the Soviet journalists were anxious to discuss yesterday's session between Wurfel, the presidential aide who oversees press credentials, and the Soviets.
Press secretary Jody Powell described it as "a meeting for a general discussion to review credentialing procedures."
"It seemed an appropriate time for this to take place," Powell added.
He said the White House has not had similar discussions with correspondents from any other country and had no plans to do so.
Vasily Gan. who covers the White House for Tass, the Soviet government news agency, said Wurfel reviewed with the Russians "all the things available to us - access to documents, press conferences, briefings, you know, all that stuff."
Gan said there were "no threats, no hints, no nothing." At the end of the session, he said. Wurfel asked the Soviets for suggestions on procedures that would ease their work here.
One other Tass correspondent attended yesterday's meeting, as did one reporter each from Pravda, the Communist Party's daily newspaper, and Izvestia, the government daily.
Three Soviet reporters accredited to cover the State Department had a similar meeting there on Friday.
Powell said the administration plans to have such talks with all 14 Soviet correspondents who have credentials to cover the White House or the State Department.
While in Washington, the Soviet correspondents have the same access to news events and government documents that domestic reporters have. They must get State Department approval, however, to travel outside the Washington area. Such approval is occasionally denied.
Whitney, the New York Times reporter charged in Moscow, flew to Boston yesterday for a vacation at his parents' home in suburban Westboro. The Times' Moscow bureau said he is scheduled to return to work in the Soviet Union on July 29.
Whitney and Piper told a Soviet judge Monday that they would not participate in the civil trial against them for fear that they might be ordered in court to reveal their sources in Moscow's dissident community.
The trial is scheduled to begin July 18.
Whitney said he might go back to Moscow before the trial begins "just for appearances."
"One of the possibilities is they won't let me come back," Whitney told the Associated Press. "But I don't want to give them any ideas."