The senior Soviet scientist mets the senior American scientist at a hotel here. They talk, but they don't communicate.
The Soviet, dismissing the invasion of Afghanistan and the exile of Nobel physicist Andrei Sakharov, speaks of renewed friendship and cooperation as though nothing has happened. "I have many good friends in your country and I want to continue to have friendly connections," said Nikolai Blokhim, president of the Soviet Union's Academy of Medical Sciences.
The American is not interested in further contact. He is profoundly upset at the Soviets and his anger is only deepened by their refusal to even discuss human rights issues with him.
"I don't want to see my Soviet friends anymore," said Nobel chemist Chris Anfinson, adding, "it's like when you have a friend and then discover he's a wife beater. I feel like saying about the Russians, there go my former friends, the wife beaters."
These remarks, made in separate interviews, reflect the souring of personal relations in the world of scientific community in the context of an overall spoiling of East-West contacts. A forum of about 300 scientists from 35 countries convened here last week for a round of discussions of whether any of the wide array of scientific exchanges between East and West built up over a decade od detente could be salvaged.
Organized within the framework of the 1975 Helsinki accords, the conference was originally intended to promote scientific cooperation, but it has turned into a political joust.
Facing criticism in some quarters back home for even agreeing to participate in the forum, the U.S. delegation has taken every opportunity to protest treatment of Sakharov and other leading Soviet scientists such as Anatoly Scharansky and Yuri Orlov. Joined by other Western nations, including such normally neutral countries as Switzerland and Sweden American scientists have urged their Soviet counterparts to pressure the Kremlin to rehabilitate these colleagues and relax curbs on scientific exchanges or else suffer a boycott on cooperation from the West.
But the East-bloc delegations have answered these pleas with a mix of indifferent shrugs, bemused laughs and a steady recitation of the official Soviet explanation on the penalties for dissident scientists. The Soviet also maintain they came to the conference to discuss science not politics.
"I can't get two inches with them," said Anfinson, echoing the mounting frustration voiced by Western scientists here.
Midway through the two-week conference, Western delegations are expressing doubt that a consensus will be reached with the East on any meaningful final communique.
U.S. scientists say they will not accept any document which does not include a strong reassertion of human rights. Too strong a statement, however, risks a veto from the Soviets who would prefer the forum to conclude with a simple catalog of East-West programs undertaken so far, together with a pledge by all to continue to expand these exchanges.
Despite these divergent views, there are several factors working for a compromise. One is an abiding Eurpoean interest in sustaining existing scientific contacts and avoiding a new Cold War. Another is the obvious urgency of the scientific problems that have been outlined here -- specifically cancer and heart diseases, new energy sources, environmental pollution and urban development.
Moreover, the outcome of this forum will help set the stage, for better or worse, for a full hearing on human rights still scheduled for the autumn in Madrid by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.