The Soviet government, in a low-key statement apparently aimed at placing a positive face on last week's unsuccessful foreign ministers' talks in Geneva to wrap up a new U.S. Soviet strategic arms limitation agreement, today said, "Completion of a new agreement remains on the agenda."
The government position, in the form of a six-paragraph commentary in the party daily Pravda, concentrated on the positive aspects of the three days of talks that ended Saturday without achieving final agreement.
"Advancement was achieved," asserted Pravda commentator Yevgeni Grigoryev. "They found agreement or narrowing positions of the two sides on a majority of main questions in which disagreements existed. Both sides expressed their resolution to bring agreement on the remaining question."
The Pravda statement broke no new ground in the longstanding negotiations. It did not mention any of the issues outstanding between the negotiators, nor did it raise the question of the expiration of the SALT treaty "protocol" covering several of the most sensitive nuclear arms questions.
Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko abruptly raised the expiration terms at Saturday's sessions, it has been learned in Washington, in a way that stalled full agreement and prevented the countries from announcing a summit meeting between President Carter and Soviet Preisdent Leonid Brezhnev.
Pravda specifically bridled at an account in The Washington Post's Monday editions that asserted that Carter administration officials believe the Soviets, angry at the timing of the announcement of normalization of relations between the United States and China, used the protocol expiration question as a means of delaying a successful completion of the talks.
By forestalling final agreement, the Soviets apparently avoided a mid-January summit journey to Washington by Brezhnev that might have been upstaged at the end of the month by the arrival of Chinese Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping.
"The Washington Post writes about some Soviet intention to block a SALT agreement for some tactical considerations," wrote Grigoryev. "Such information, or to be more exact, misinformation, is prompted either by lack of information on the course of the talks or by a deliberate effort to distort the essence of Soviet stand, although it is not at all the Soviet stand that ought to be blamed that the SALT II talks are still uncompleted."
Pravda also said an account by The New York Times was "the more strange" because it "asserts that in Geneva the Soviet Union displayed unwillingness to complete the SALT talks."
The commentary says nothing about Soviet views of the new Chinese-American relationship. Normalization is scheduled for Jan. 1, with both countries to exchange ambassadors by March. It is Soviet custom to call into question the motives or machinations of other countries when explaining its own role in delicate, inconclusive, or unsuccessful bargaining.
The Kremlin maintains that SALT, as the kay to detente between the two superpowers, is too important to be derailed by other events that cause bilateral friction. But it is clear that they have taken a negative view of the normalization of relations between Peking and Washington, and that Brezhnev took pains to make this clear in a note to Carter two weeks ago.
When Carter publicly described the note as supportive, the Soviets were quick to respond that Brezhnev had in fact told Carter the Kremlin will closely follow the progress of the two nations' foreign policies and "will draw appropriate conclusions" as they unfold.
Prior to the Geneva talks last week, the Soviets had indicated they were interested in an early Brezhnev-Carter summit, and even as the talks were foundering short of complete accord Saturday, Moscow Radio was reporting that the sessions were aimed at preparing the way for a summit.
Pravda did not mention a summit meeting in its short commentary, which conforms generally to the positive assessment of the talks given here two days ago by Gromyko after his arrival from Geneva.