The State Department yesterday downgraded the level of official concern about Soviet bloc maneuvers around Poland after receiving word last weekend from the Soviets that they will not involve large-scale troop movement.
"We are resting somewhat easier today than last Friday or the middle of last week" because of new information from several quarters about the planned maneuvers, State Department spokesman William Dyess said.
While not publicly describing the new data, Dyess left the clear impression that the message from Moscow was responsible in part for "less concern" here about possible Soviet intervention.
For several weeks, the Reagan administration has been closely monitoring preparations for military manuevers of the Warsaw Pact nations in Eastern Europe. Citing the tense situation in Poland, the State Department has been expressing concern publicly about the maneuvers since March 5.
The public alarm was raised to a higher level last Friday by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., who spoke to reporters at a breakfast meeting about "a huge exercise about to take place."
Haig added that "the situation is somewhat more tense than it was three weeks ago" due to the approaching maneuvers and the hardening political line of the Soviet leadership regarding Poland.
On a television program Friday night, Haig said the United States was "watching very carefully two manifestations of a changing situation in Poland," the "somewhat harder line" of the Soviets and the impending military exercise, "which clearly is approaching, if not exceeding, the 25,000-man limit" that would require advance reporting under the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki agreements between East and West.
The Helsinki pact, while ambiguous on many details, in general requires advance notice to other states of "major military maneuvers" in Europe involving more than 25,000 troops in one area. Advance word of smaller maneuvers is encouraged, in the interest of confidence-building and avoiding tensions.
The Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany, simultaneously announcing the maneuvers in terse statements March 10, spoke of "a planned joint headquarters exercise" to improve coordination between higher headquarters of armies and air forces.
According to State Department sources, acting U.S. Ambassador Jack F. Matlock Jr. was informed last weekend in Moscow that the maneuvers, code-named Soyuz-81, will not involve sufficient troop movements to warrant reporting under the Helsinki pact.
Western European intelligence also indicated that the Soviets are planning a "command-post exercise" to test planning and communications without large-scale troop deployments, sources said.
U.S. intelligence had been reporting for some time that Soyuz-81 gave the appearence of a "command-post exercise" rather than a field exercise of large diminsions.
One early estimate was that eastern bloc forces numbering 100,000 to 150,000 might be involved, but that most of these troops might be utilized only on paper in a commanders' "war game."
State Department officials said yesterday that a widespread military exercise, even mostly on paper, is capable of being converted quickly to the real thing. The officials emphasized that the long-term U.S. concern about Poland's independence remains high.
As late as Monday, the State Department spokesman said the United States did not know if Soyuz-81 would exceed the 25,000-man notification limit. Dyess said then that "it would obviously ease tensions" for the Soviets to supply further information.
According to State Department data, the western allies since 1975 have notified the Soviets of 17 "major military maneuvers" as required by the Helsinki pact and 21 "smaller scale maneuvers" as recommended by Helsinki.
The Soviet Union in the same period has notified the West of 11 "major military maneuvers," and Poland and East Germany each has notified the West of one major maneuver, according to data. Hungary has given notification of four "smaller scale maneuvers."