The Kremlin today disputed President Carter's account of a message he received from Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev on normalization of relations last week between the United States and China, the Soviet Union's most bitter antagonist.
While asserting that Brezhnev told Carter normal realtions is a "natural matter." the governement press agency Tass indicated Brezhnev had expressed depp reservations of Peking and the antihegemony clause in the Washington Peking communique.
The two-paragraph Tass item indicates Soviet ire that Brezhnev's message had been distorted by Carter. Tass hinted that the Kremlin has major reservations about the U.S. Chinese rapprochement and will wait to see how the new relationship develops, keeping its own deep-seated antagonism toward Peking in the foreground.
n Washington House officials said Carter stood by his characterization of the Brezhnev message, which was delivered to national security adviser Zbigniew Brezezinski by Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin. But the White House, while not disputing the statements attributed to Brezhnev by Tass, also declined to make public the text of the message.
[White House press secretary Jody Powell said he had read the full message and that he was "not aware of any inconsistency" between it and the president's description of it. Officials noted that Tass did not print the text of the message and that private communications between heads of state were generally not made public.]
According to the Tass account, Brezhnev's message "draws attention to the fact that the joint American-chinese communique contains expressions whose direction is beyond doubt if one bears in mind the usual vocabulary of the Chinese leaders."
This is a reference to the pledge by the United States and China to oppose hegemony in Asia for themselfes or any other nation. The Soviets see such clauses as aimed directly at what they consider their legitimate efforts to wield power and influence in Asia. They fought unsuccessfully this year to pressure Japan agains including such a clause in its recent peace treaty with Peking.
The agency did not disclose the precise full of Brezhnev's note, but its version is substantially different from the interpretation Carter gave during an interview Tuesday with CBS. Carter said then that Brezhnev had been "very positive in tone" and had told the president "our new relationship with the People's Republic of China will contribute to world peace.
Tass, however, said Brezhnev's reply says that "the Soviet Union will most closely follow what the development of American-Chinese relations will be in practice and from this will draw approriate conclusions for Soviet policy".
The latest wrinkle in the turbulent Carter-Moscow relationship comes as the two countries' foreign ministers are completing the first of two days of talks aimed at completing negotiations on a new strategic arms limitation agreement.
Diplomats here last weekend expressed concerned that the timing of the Washington-Peking announcement could disrupt the SALT II timetable, which many said was aimed at a summit meeting in mid-January between Carter and Brezhnev in Washington.
Carter asserted in the CBS interview that the United States' new relationship with China was proper and "will not put any additional obstacles in the way of a SALT agreement."
The Tass version of Brezhnev's message omits any reference to SALT negotiations. It takes pains to bolster Brezhnev's image as a leader by asserting that it was Carter who informed Brezhnev ahead of time that the United States and China would normalize relations.
"The president gave the assurance that this step had no other aims except to promote the cause of world peace, and expressed the opinion that it would benefit all countries," Tass reported.