Yugoslavia is sending one of its top military commanders to the United States Saturday, the first such trip abroad since the death of President Tito and a clear indication that his successors intend to stregthen close U.S. ties.
The 10-day visit of Gen. Dusan Pekic, deputy chief of the Yugoslav general staff and commander of all ground forces, comes just before President Carter's scheduled visit to Yugoslavia June 24-25.
Sources here said the Yugoslavs are interested in several U.S. weapons systems and sophisticated electronics, including antiaircraft rockets and antitank missiles.
Pekic will be shown these weapons while touring U.S. military installations in Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee. He will also have discussions with his host, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Edward C. Meyer, and other top Pentagon officials.
Yugoslavia is the only Communist country to have received substantive U.S. military assistance. The Yugoslavs received $1.8 billion in grants and credits for purchases of U.S. weapons between 1948, when they broke with the Soviet Union, and 1961, when the military aid program was terminated. Subsequent U.S. arms and sales have involved mainly spare parts.
In recent years Yugoslavia has again become heavily dependent on the Soviet Union for sophisticated weapons, even though Yugoslav officials emphasize that 80 percent of the country's arms supplies are produced at home.
Pekic's visit here is part of a three-year expansion of U.S.-Yugoslav military cooperation involving exchanges of visits by top defense officials and Yugoslav efforts to reduce their dependence on the Soviet Union by diversifying their supplies of sophisticated arms.
But while U.S. and Yugoslav officials here sought to emphasize its "routine" character, the Pekic visit only five weeks after Tito's funeral reflects an important political decision by an uncertain collective leadership seeking to secure the country's independence and nonalignment.
Following Tito's death, Carter underscored American backing for Yugoslavia's independence and said the United States will "do what it must to provide that support." This and the president's forthcoming talks with the Yugoslav leaders suggest that Yugoslav military requirements will get more sympathetic consideration here than in the past.
The Yugoslavs are mainly interested in defensive weapons designed to delay an invasion, which would provide time for territorial units and milita to mobilize guerrila resistance in the mountains.
Although Yugoslav leaders contend in public that an attack could come from any direction, their military strategy is clearly based on the assumption that it more likely would come from the Soviet Bloc.
Among U.S. weapons reportedly being considered are antiship tactical guided missiles, air-to-surface missles, wire-guided antitank rockets, an integrated naval defense system that includes radar and surface-to-air missiles, and sophisticated communications equipment.
As commander of the ground forces, Pekic is in charge of the largest and most important Yugoslav military forces. In general, the military is perceived as the key cohesive force among the country's diverse ethnic groups.
The Yugoslavs have been buying modest numbers of Soviet surface-to-air missiles and very limited numbers of surface-to-surface missiles.