The Soviets warned today that any "limited" use of nuclear weapons would lead to an "immediate and sharp" escalation that could plunge the world "into a universal nuclear holocaust."
Continuing its attacks on President Carter's nuclear strategy directives, the official news agency Tass severely castigated American "nuclear maniacs" for advancing "a mad, manhating and very dangerous concept" of limited nuclear confrontations.
Officials here privately expressed concern in much more quiet terms, but they all made the same basic point: that Soviet-American relations will deteriorate over the next several years.
Both publicly and privately, Moscow seems to view the United States in the 1980s as being unable to face what commentators here call the new facts of the modern world. Tass said that the days of Washington's claim to world supremacy "are gone forever" now that "the correlation of forces" on the international scene has changed.
Privately, officials state the same ideas in more philosophical terms, speaking about the need for psychological adjustment now that the United States is vulnerable like other nations. They say they expect that in two years, such adjustments will have been made, and that the dialogue between the superpowers will resume.
Meanwhile, a State Department official in Washington today confirmed reports that Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko may meet in September in New York during the next session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The official said it is customary for secretaries of state to attend the session, and to set up bilateral meetings with leaders of other nations -- including the Soviet Union.
Muskie and Gromyko last met May 16, while in Vienna for ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of Austria's postwar independence.
[That meeting was the first top-level contact between American and Soviet officials after relations between the two countries cooled following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December.]
Soviet officials today said the core of the current problems between the two countries is that the United States wants to regain its position of dominance in the world at the expense of the Soviet Union.
This is reflected, they said, in a vain search for strategic superiority.
The Soviets have been frustrated by a series of obstacles put in the way of the second Soviet-American Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty signed in Vienna last year, but yet to be ratified by the Senate.
They are gravely concerned about the NATO decision to deploy 572 U.S. medium range nuclear missiles in Western Europe by 1933.
"It is obvious to any reasonable man that there can be no local nuclear wars in our time, that any attack by one state on another would mean . . .the threat of a universal nuclear holocaust," Tass said.
The commentary was in part directed at Western Europe in an apparent effort to divide America's allies. In case of a limited nuclear conflict, Tass said, Western Europe faces "the greatest danger" because of the planned deployment of the 572 U.S. missiles.