Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko gave a generally positive assessment of Soviet-American relations today in a major speech, but warned anew that further improvements -- and possibly eventual agreement on a new strategic arms limitation treaty -- are endangered by the influence of arch-enemy China on American foreign policy.
Speaking in Minsk as the only candidate for his seat as a deputy in the elections Sunday for the Supreme Soviet, or parliament, Gromyko also repeated the Soviet government's admonition to China to withdraw its troops from Vietnam "before it is too late, I repeat, before it is too late."
Declaring that "our relations with the U.S. are of particular significance," Gromyko said the future looks "constructive." But he asserted, "The Chinese leaders are striving with particular eagerness to set the Soviet Union and the United States at loggerheads. The development of Soviet-American relations is being throttled under their influence and also under the influence of definite internal forces in the U.S."
Gromyko reiterated the Kremlin view that "the progress made so far at the [SALT] negotiations warrants the belief that this important matter can be successfully brought to an end shortly" providing the United States does not seek other than "equality and equal security."
The foreign minister's address comes at a time when the two countries' relationship has been strained by repeated tensions over the Iranian revolution, the slaying in Afghanistan of an American ambassador with what Washington sees as Soviet involvement and the Chinese invasion of Vietnam, which began Feb. 17.
Gromyko's speech made no reference to allegations of U.S. plots to meddle in Iran, or to collusion between Washington and Peking in the attack on Vietnam, both themes that have figured heavily in anti-American propaganda by the Soviet media in recent weeks.
He declared, however, that the "Communist Party Central Committee and the Soviet government have drawn attention more than once to the fact that such actions by the U.S. as the continuing expansion of the military budget, launching of new weapons programs, playing "the China card' which has become so dear to those in Washington who think little of the future, in no way meet the purposes of the [SALT] agreement [or] the goals of peace in general."
Gromyko added, "If this is being done for the purpose of pressuring the Soviet Union, such attempts are futile and can only yield an opposite effect. If the U.S. wishes in this way to pacify the opponents of improving our relations, experience shows that this only whets additionally the appetites of Peking to seize foreign lands. Consequently, it is better to renounce such dangerous experiments."
He added that the Soviet Union "stands for leveling up relations with the U.S., making them stable and constructive, securing their development in all directions on the principled foundation of equality and mutual respect."
In tone, the Gromyko speech appears to reflect a continuing strong desire by the Kremlin for better relations with Washington despite Washington's new friendship with China and bilateral troubles elsewhere in the world.
The Gromyko speech comes just a week after President Carter expressed the view that a SALT treaty is essential for stabilizing the superpower relationship.
Today's Gromyko address echoes the themes of an authoritative Pravda article last June, which was a direct and sharp-tongued rebuke to a speech in which Carter bluntly told the Soviets the United States was prepared for "either confrontation or cooperation" between the two countries. Gromyko's remarks, however, contain none of the alarm or bitterness of the Pravda article.
Pravda's bitterness is directed at Peking, whose leaders, according to Gromyko, are "obsessed with ideas of hegemonism and expansionism. They must know Peking's aggression is invariably doomed to failure."
On Feb. 18, the Soviets warned China to withdraw from Vietnam and they began military talks with Vietnam under terms of the recent Hanoi-Moscow friendship treaty. The Soviets have stepped up arms shipments to their Southeast Asia ally, but have taken no other known steps toward an overt role of their own.
[The Soviet news agency Tass, citing "reports reaching Hanoi," said today that Chinese troops were preparing to invade Laos. In Washington, however, U.S. officials discounted this, noting that so far Peking has refrained from involving that Vietnamese-dominated buffer state.]