Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, arriving for talks with the Soviet Union on limiting strategic armaments, announced yesterday he will meet here with the wife of Soviet dissident Anatoly Scharansky.
Vance's announcement of his plan to meet the wife of the human rights activist, whose trail for treason began Monday in Moscow, aaded to the unusual tension between the two superpowers on the eve of talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.
A senior official aboard Vance's plane, who spoke to reporters without permitting use of his name, conceded that "it's going to be hard sledding" to make major progress toward the limitation of strategic nuclear weapons in the two days of talks with Gromyko.
The official maintained, however, as Vance has said several times in recent days, that the United States continues to consider a strategic arms limitation treaty to be of "paramount" importance despite disagreements with the Soviet Union over human rights in that country.
Vance is carrying a personal message from President Carter to Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev about the trials of Scharansky, Alexander Ginzburg and other dissidents, and the senior official said a number of additional U.S. actions to display disapproval are under study.
Informed sources said the unspecified U.S. counter-measures would depend in large part on the outcome of the trials under way in the Soviet Union.
A State Department spokesman called Vance's meeting with Avital Scharansky "a concrete symbol of our concern." Vance said the meeting, expected to take place tomorrow afternoon after the last Vance's scheduled meetings with Gromyko, was arrange at Avital Scharansky's request.
The senior official said Vance hopes to obtain from Gromyko "further elucidation of what they (the Soviets) are doing and why they are doing it" in the human rights field.
There is no consensus among U.S. officials in the Vance Party about why the Soviets chose to begin the Scharansky and Ginzburg trials only two days before the Vance-Gromyko meetings here. One official suggested that the Soviets do not expect the present talks to produce a finished SALT agreement and so decided to go ahead with the controversial trials despite the cloud they cast on the discussions.
Both Vance and Gromyko, in separate arrival statements here last night, said the main focus of their discussions is to be the nuclear arms negotiations. There was no indication from Gromyko that he is willing even to discuss the Soviet dissident trials with Vance.
In a brief airport statement, Gromyko said his side is ready for discussions of the SALT question "as well as others" with good will. He refused to answer any questions.
In the current low state of Soviet-American relations, there was little optimism in the Vance party about the talks that are to begin this morning. Seldom in recent years have the leaders of two nations been in such open and heated conflict on such a broad range of questions.
The two principal SALT issues to be discussed here, according to the senior official, are limitations on new types of strategic missiles and the limitations to be applied to the Soviet backfire bomber. He added that there is more likelihood of progress on the missiles than on the bomber.
Officials accompanying Vance said the United States will inform the Soviets that it reserves the right to go ahead with a plan to dig thousands of new silo holes to permit deceptive basing of the U.S. land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. The senior official said that no decision has been made by the United States to adopt the multiple-hole system but that the option is kept open in the negotiating documents for the new treaty.
Another U.S. official, who has been keeping close tabs on the progress of the SALT negotiations, said rapid progress could be made on the remaining technical issues if the broader political questions between the two sides could be solved.
In addition to SALT and human rights, reporters were told by the U.S. side that the Middle East and other questions would be taken up with Gromyko. Officials did not rule out discussing conflicting policies in Africa with the Soviet foreign minister.
The Vance-Gromyko meetings are scheduled to take place alternately in U.S. and Soviet buildings here.
The first meeting is scheduled for an office building on the edge of Geneva's botanical gardens that was started by financier Bernard Cornfeld as headquarters for his speculative securities empire, but taken over by the U.S. government after he went bankrupt.