A meeting of high U.S. and Soviet officials on housing and construction that had been scheduled to start yesterday in Moscow was canceled by the State Department as a reaction to the Kremlin's recent trials of dissidents.
It was the third time this month that official missions to the Soviet Union have been halted as an expression of U.S. displeasure over human rights conditions in that country, sources said yesterday.
Shortly after the trials of dissidents Anatoly Scharansky and Alexander Ginzburg were announced. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance revealed the cancellation of planned visits to Moscow by delegations headed by Barbara Blum deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and by Frank Press, who is President Carter's science adviser.
The latest mission was to be headed by Lawrence B. Simons, assistant secretary for housing in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Simons said he and six other officials had planned to meet with Soviet counterparts for 10 days in Moscow. Leningrad and Tibilisi, the capital of Soviet Georgia.
But he said he met last week with Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Vance's Soviet affairs adviser, Marshall Shulman, and at their direction called off the trip "in light of the human rights situation."
Previous HUD missions have covered such topics as Soviet construction of foundations in permafrost and U.S. advances in reinforced concrete.
Tila Maria de Hancock, who heads HUD's office on international affairs, noted that HUD Secretary Patricia Robert Harris led a delegation to Moscow last October and that Harris' Soviet counterpart, Ignaty Novikov, is scheduled to lead a mission here at the end of September.
A State Department source said the Novikov visit is now being reviewed by department officials. He said that no other U.S. mission headed by an assistant secretary has been scheduled in the next few weeks but that one headed by an assistant EPA administrator has been planned to begin around the end of August.
That one is still under consideration he said, adding that if an official ranking as high as Simons had been allowed to go, the Soviets would have seen the mission as symbolic of U.S. relaxation on the dissident issue.
However, he noted that three or four lower-level U.S. delegations consisting of scientists or engineers have been allowed to proceed.
"We see merit in these exchanges but we're generally reviewing what we're going to do with bilateral agreements in the longer run and we're keeping an eye on tensions between Soviet officials and dissidents," he said.
The United States has 11 bilateral agreements with the Russians covering such fields as science and technology, space, health, environmental protection and housing.
Under the 11 agreements, 80 working groups cover 300 project areas. Last year 800 Americans and 700 Soviets went on agreement exchange trips.