The Soviet Union, on the threshold of a new phase of relations with the United States, is seeking active superpower collaboration to manage international problems and head off potential clashes.
A desire for closer cooperation with Washington was a major theme of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's recent meeting with Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, and was reiterated by several senior Communist Party and government officials in subsequent interviews with this reporter.
The expressions of hope coincided with a mild but definite upswing in Soviet-American relations and the promise of much more important gains if the two nations, as expected, sign a new treaty limiting strategic offensive arms within the next several month.
The upturn comes after a spring and summer of deepening tension and bitter rhetoric over Soviet-Cuban activities in Africa and dissident trials in Moscow. Soviet sources now say that Moscow's top leadership was very close in early summer to unspecified "major decisions" which could have worsened tensions even more, spurring a jump in arms spending on both sides and increasing the likelihood of superpower confrontations over "local conflicts" in peripheral areas.
According to informed American officials, Brezhnev in the Kremlin meeting two weeks ago strongly emphasized to Vance that world's two most powerful nations must find ways to work together more closely. Brezhnev's message was underscored by a related concern - the newly reactivated China and the West's future policy toward it.
Valentin M. Falin, a senior staff official of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, sketched in some of the details in an interview at party headquarters, which is rarely visited by Western journalists. Under large portraits of Marx and Lenin in a modern office with seven white telephones and a polished conference table, Falin called for "increasing spheres of cooperation" and "a definite degree of consistency" in relations between Moscow and Washington.
Falin was an architect or Moscow-Bonn relations as the first Soviet ambassador to West Germany and since early this year has been deputy director of the Central Committee Department of International Information, responsible for disseminating the party position on foreign affairs. Since the Central Committee under its ruling Politburo "guides" the Soviet government and all other openly existing organizations, its pronouncements are authoritative.
Falin spoke of the need for the United States and the Soviet Union to address together "a whole complex of problems in difference spheres where their interests coincide." He declared that despite problems of the past, "there is no fatal necessity of confronting one another" in local conflicts, provided that the vital interests of the inhabitants are taken into consideration. Surprisingly, he cited as evidence two areas of intermittent Soviet-American conflict, Angola and the Middle East.
On Angola, Falin maintained that former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger had forged a "mutual understanding" with Moscow calling for "a joint solution" of the problem of decolonization there. He said that this plan, involving a coalition government of three competing African factions, fell apart and the fighting occurred when the Central Intelligence Agency began covertly to support one of the factions shortly before the new government was ready.
[No U.S.-Soviet agreement on Angola was reported at the time, late 1974 and early 1975, when the transitional government of all parties was being established. Kissinger was out of Washington and unavailable for comment on the Soviet account.William Hyland, a Kissinger associated and former National Security Council aide, said he knew of no discussion with the Russians or understanding about Angola during that period.]
On the Middle East, Falin criticized the United States for abandoning the jointly agreed aim of a comprehensive Arab - Israeli settlement, endorsed in U.N. actions and in the U.S.-Soviet joint statement of October, 1977, in favor of a separate Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty without a settlement of the Palestinian problem.
What would be the reaction of the United States if we changed places, if the (Egyptian-Israeli) conference took place not in Camp David but in Zagorak, 60 miles from Moscow? And if one of the parties would state that the main thing which combined all three parties would be anti-Americanism?" Falin asked.
While conceding that the Camp David results lower the possibility of any Eqyptian-Israeli military clash and therefore "may not look that grave" over the next several years, the Communist Party official added that "if we try to look ahead for several decades I don't think we can be very optimistic." He said "a wide conflict" between Israel and Arab states is likely to continue, complicated by more acute disputes among the Arabs.
I couldn't personally guarantee that some of the Arabs who feel deprived by Camp David wouldn't get the intention to take revenge, to restore the rights of which they have been deprived," Falin said. This remark was echoed by other Soviet officials who referred to desperation of disadvantaged Arab parties as the ultimate danger of a bilateral deal between Egypt and Isral in the Middle East.
Veteran Kremlin watchers among the Western diplomatic corps in Moscow report a growing Soviet belief in recent years that it has both the right and the physical means to make its influence felt on major world problems. The frustration at being left out or deliberately cut out of a place in the international game, under these circumstances, may underlie the appeals for closer cooperation with the United States.
In an operation that began a year ago this month, the Soviets mounted a large-scale airlift of Cuban troops and Soviet equipment to Ethiopia, projecting military power to faraway shores in a manner that sent shock waves through Washington and many other capitals. More recently, the Russians mounted a less ambitious airlift and sealift around the rim of China to aid their Vietnamese allies, who are embroiled in a war with Cambodia and an increasingly bitter dispute with Peking.
Despite this and other displays of military muscle, the Soviets are sitting on the sidelines while the United States negotiates an Egyptian-Israeli peace and leads multi-nation negotiations over the future of Rhodesia and Namibia, with no role in either set of talks for the Russians. At the same time, the Angolan regime, which took power with Soviet-Cuban aid that still continues, has undertaken a rapprochement with anti-communist and western-supported Zaire in a move sponsored by the West. Soviet sources here described Angola's decision as strictly its own.
Moscow's crowning frustration has been China's unprecedented bid for alliances with anti-Soviet nations and movements throughout the world and political, economic and even military supply connections both east and west of the Soviet land mass. Peking has undertaken this large-scale political initiative despite the presence of an estimated 44 Soviet divisions and overwhelming nuclear military might along the Sino-Soviet border.
Soviet disappointment at being unable to translate military strength into political power or even political deference has been especially sharp because only a half decade ago it appeared that the problem was solved. In the early detente era of 1972-74, the United States reversed its long-standing policy of isolating the Soviet Union and for a time granted the recognition and role Moscow had long desired, including three summit conferences with American presidents and the unparalled Kissinger-era intimacies of secret meetings and back-channel messages.
The warmth faded after the early months of the Ford administration. The Carter administration, in a pendulum swing toward the traditional U.S. stand, downgraded relations with the Soviet Union during most of its 22-month tenure in favor of increased diplomatic independence and greater emphasis on close relations with anti-communist allies.
In calling for a resumption of special superpower relationships, the Russians made it clear in interviews that they are not prepared to give up their ideologically based allegiance to Communist parties and liberation movements. And while saying it is not a grand design or necessary pattern for repetition, they would not foreclose the use of Cuban troops and Soviet airlifts and material in new situations if conditions require.
Nevertheless, the suggestion was made that despite differences of ideology and national interests, there is room in many cases for "mutual understanding" between the United States and Soviet Union which could minimize or prevent dangerous clashes.
Both Falin and Georgi Arbatov, director of Moscow's Institute of the United States and Canada and adviser on U.S. affairs to Brezhnev, stressed the need to deal effectively with the potentially explosvie racial problems of southern Africa, where both the United States and the Soviet Union are committed to achieving majority rule.
TTS - Carrell
Speaking of Rhodesia, Falin said, "we are for a political solution for the problems of this country . . . However, since the (Ian) Smith regime did not make possible the political solution we did not reject the right of the majority to use other means leading to democratic rule." The Soviet Union, according to U.S. sources, has supplied arms and some advisers through "front line" African states to the major black liberation groups operating form bases outside Rhodesia.
Saying that consultations with the United States on southern African problems have been "not sufficient," Falin added that if Washington and Moscow are ready to discuss what their nations will and will not do in outer space "it is even more right that we should discuss what we should do on earth."
The principal Soviet hope for rapid improvement in relations with the United States rests on the possibility that a new strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT) will open the way to political as well as military understandings. A SALT-II treaty is "not irrelevant in terms of hardware, but of more importance, if you don't do it, I don't know when or where we will pick up" the relationship again, said Arbatov.
In an optimistic prediction, Arbatov added, further arms control agreements including the SALT II treaty will be followed by the treaty banning all nuclear tests and a good start on SALT III talks aiming for major strategic force reductions. All this could start "a cumulative effect" that could improve the international political situation as well as Soviet-American relations, he said.
In view of the fundamental differences, Arbatov said he would be satisfied with "positive trends" in Soviet-American affairs and did not look for "an idyllic relationship." Even a limited accord, as he tells it, would be a long way from the bad blood of mid-June when the Kremlin, in a lengthy public statement, charged that the Carter administration was deliberately worsening Soviet-American relations and warned that the policies being followed posed "serious dangers" to the United States and world peace.
Arbatov, who has been widely, assumed to be a principal author of the June 17 statement, said it was a collective effort reflecting a decision by the top leaders of the Soviet Communist Party and government to warn about the consequence of existing trends.
"The time had come for major decisions" whether to leave things as they were or take new steps leading to "a serious deterioration in relations" and possibly "a point of no return," according to Arbatov. He did not specify what alternatives were under consideration at the time in the Kremlin, but said that Soviet-American tension could bring major escalation of the arms race, a breakup of the superpower dialogue and the breaking out of local conflicts which could involve forces of the two sides.
"The heat of the rhetoric" between Washington and Moscow subsided in late August, Arbatov recalled, when the Soviets detected some "positive" signals from the U.S. side. In the Soviet view, he said, "the major point" in the reversal of the tide was Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko's early October talks in the United States with Carter and Vance. These brought mutual compromises on SALT and a modest upturn in political relations.