The Soviet Union hinted readiness yesterday to pull out its troops from Afghanistan without providing signs that would suggest that Moscow meant business.
U.S. officials firmly discounted the hints that ranged from a newspaper report quoting Soviet officials as expressing willingness to accept U.N. troops in Afghanistan to Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev's interest in U.S.-Soviet talks on the crisis expressed to a visiting American buisnessmen.
Administration sources insisted that the Soviets planned to introduce more troops into Afghanistan and that two new Soviet divisions were "either moved in or about to come in" to strengthen the Soviet invasion force.
The sources said President Carter's letter this week to President Tito of Yugoslavia contained the U.S. view on how the crisis could be resolved.
In the letter, Carter said that "with a prompt withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the United States would be willing to join with Afhanistan's neighbors in a guarantee of true neutrality and non-interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs," accoding to officials.
Analysts here believe that new indications of Soviet flexibility were designed to split "wavering" European allies and halt the momentum of Carter's sanctions, including the drive to boycott the Moscow Summer Olympics.
According to this view, the Soviets were trying to play Western allies against each other, especially in Europe where there are some reservations about the U.S. sanctions, without advancing serious proposals.
In Moscow, U.S. businessman Armand Hammer said after a long meeting with Brezhnev that the Soviet leader expressed interest in possible Soviet-American discussions.
Brezhnev said that he felt that the Afghanistan problem could be solved if the United States and the countries surrounding Afghanistan would guarantee that they would use their influence to see that there is no interference from outside in the internal affairs of Afghanistan," Hammer said.
In London, the newspaper Evening News said that high Soviet officials would be willing to accept U.N. troops in Afghanistan as part of a plan to ensure its neutrality.
The newspaper, whose Moscow correspondent is a Soviet citizen frequently used by the Kremlin to fly trial balloons, said the Soviets have suggestes such a U.N. role in an informal approach to the British Foreign Office.British officials in London said no such informal approach had been made.
In his talks with Hammer, Brezhnev gave no details as to how the United States and other nations could arrive at his required guarantees.
But, Hammer quoted Brezhnev as saying, "he understood they [the United States] couldn't control all the elements buy they could use their influence and above all that any arms shipped to Pakistan be used for defensive purposes only." This, according to Hammer, "would be a form of guarantee" to Brezhnev.
U.S. officials noted that Brezhnev's public statement asserted that he would be "ready to commence withdrawal" of troops after such guarantees were obtained.
News services also reported:
Soviet and Afghan forces, reportedly trying to secure their hold in Kabul, are believed to have begun executing Moslem religious leaders, sources in Islamabad said.
Afghanistan's government radio reported more attacks by foes of the communist government, with food stocks destroyed and roads cut.
Merchants who staged a general strike to protest the occupation began returning to work today in Kabul, Western diplomatic sources here said.
The sources said as many as 25 percent of the shops in Kabul reopened today, the seventh day of the strike, but one diplomat quoted reports from the Afghan captial as saying Kabul was still "very tense" in the aftermath of the anti-Soviet riots that rocked the city last week and left hundreds dead.