The United States plans to make a major effort at next month's Vienna summit to break the six-month-old impasse in Soviet-American negotiations aimed at curbing the sale of conventional arms, administration officials said yesterday.
Recent statements from Moscow as well as an apparently successful round of bureaucratic jockeying in the U.S. government have generated optimism that the stalled negotiations can be put back on track.
The future of President Carter's conventional arms restraint policy, which was two years old last weekend, hinges to a great extent on progress in the U.S.-Soviet talks on the issue. European arms suppliers have refused to join the U.S. efforts unless the Soviets can be brought into agreement. Last November Carter said his future decisions about the limitation of U.S. arms sales to Third World countries would depend on the degree of cooperation he can obtain from other nations.
Speaking to out-of-town editors in the White House last Friday, Carter disclosed that he plans to take up the conventional arms question with Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev at their summit meeting in Vienna June 15-18. Officials said the topic is on U.S. lists of proposed items for summit discussion, but they added that there is yet no final agreement on the agenda.
Brezhnev, campaigning for election to his seat in the Supreme Soviet two months ago, said completion of the strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT) II with the United States "will probably help revive the other cirrently conducted talks" between the two nations. He specifically mentioned the conventional arms talks as well as two other sets of negotiations, on a comprehensive nuclear test ban and reduction of conventional forces and armaments in Europe.
In his statement to editors last Friday, Carter mentioned the test ban and European forces issues as well as the conventional arms talks as prospective subjects for the summit with Brezhnev. Other officials said progress on the first two topics is likely to be partial or preliminary, and suggested that the conventional arms talks seem to present the most likely prospect for a major breakthrough.
In addition, there appears to be still some prospect that a temporary super-power ban on the testing of antisatellite weapons in space could be concluded and announced at the summit. U.S.-Soviet talks on this issue are continuing.
The conventional arms negotiations with the Soviets have been deadlocked since the U.S. position was frozen last December as a result of savage bureaucratic infighting between elements of the National Security Council and the State Department. After proposing earlier that the two countries discuss the application of tangible restraints in various regions of the world, U.S. negotiators were instructed to walk out of the talks if the Soviets sought to bring up the regions which were their top candidates for restraint.
Officials said yesterday that "new ideas" for a revised U.S. position are in the final stage of acceptance within the administration.
One official, Assistant Director Barry M. Blechman of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, suggested that the United States would retain the view that Latin America and Africa present the best prospects for regional curbs, while the Soviets probably will continue to emphasize East and West Asia. Blechman expressed optimism that each side will find enough of interest to break through what he called the "procedural issue" that has blocked progress in the negotiations.