The Kremlin has halted trips to the United States by Soviet performing groups or individual artists until the U.S. government negotiates a new cultural exchange accord, Soviet officials said yesterday.
In another indication of the increasing strain in relations between Moscow and Washington, Ministry of Culture spokesman Vladimir I. Litvinov said, "We cannot send any Soviet artists" to the United States until a new agreement is signed to replace a bilateral exchange agreement that lapsed Dec. 31.
u.S. officials in Moscow said talks on a new accord have not been resumed since a New Year's Day recess because of the Carter administration's policy of countermeasures against the Soviet Union for its invasion of Afghanistan.
In what was seen as a sign of Soviet sensitivity to a spate of recent defections by Soviet performers touring in the United States, Soviet officials have insisted that any new exchange agreement include a provision guaranteeing the "security" of Soviet artists in the United States.
American negotiators have resisted such a provision lest it be interpreted by the Soviet Union as a U.S. promise to return artists who seek to defect. b
Bolshoi Ballet dancers Alexander Godunov and Leonid and Valentina Kozlov defected in the United States last fall.
Since the start of the year, at least four Soviet performers have had their trips to the United States canceled. They include conductor Yuri teimirkanov, violinist Vladimir Spivakov and pianists Lazer Berman and Mikhail Pletnyov.
Litvinov said Soviet opera singer Makvala Kasrashvili, who was allowed as special exception to sing in New York this month with the metropolitan Opera, probably would be the last performer to travel to the United States until a new agreement is signed.
Meanwhile, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko met in Damascus with Syrian President Hafez Assad, one of Moscow's staunchest Mideast allies.
Diplomatic sources said Gromyko's visit, the first by a senior Soviet official to the area since the invasion of Afghanistan last month, appeared to be an attempt to refocus regional attention on opposition to U.S.-sponsored Egyptian-Israeli peace moves world of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Syria is boycotting the current meeting of Islamic foreign ministers at Islamabad, Pakistan. The official Syrian news agency said Assad had stressed "Syria's eagerness to deepen cooperation with the Soviet Union." there has been speculation that increased cooperation could mean stepped-up shipments of Soviet arms to Syria.