The Reagan administration received no "quid pro quo" from the Soviet Union and return for lifting a partial embargo on U.S. gain exports, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige said yesterday, but he discounted the idea that the Soviets might read the decision as a sign of weakness.
"I think there is no mistake in our intentions vis-a-vis the Soviets," Baldrige said in an interview on "Issues and Answers" (ABC, WJLA), citing "hard signals, tough signals" from both the president and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
During the campaign, President Reagan frequently criticed the embargo, imposed in January, 1980, by former President Carter in retaliation for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as being a disproportionately severe sacrifice for farmers. But it was not lifted until Friday, partly because Haig had persuaded the president that it would be inappropriate to lift the embargo while the possibility existed of Soviet intervention in Poland and that premature lifting of the embargo would be inconsistent with the administration's efforts to put across a hard line to Moscow.
That line has been put down, Baldrige indicated yesterday. Asked how he thought the Soviet Politburo would read the decision on the embargo, he said, "I would not take that as a signal of weakness in any way, shape or form. I would take it as a sense of security that this president feels strong enough to be able to do that and withstand . . . a minor amount of criticism."
Haig reportedly still thinks lifting the embargo is a mistake, and he told the Associated Press Saturday that the administration would impose an across-the-board ban on trade with the Soviet Union -- including a new grain embargo -- if the Soviets intervene in Poland.
"I think the most important thing we must prevent in the wake of lifting the embargo is the perception that it was exclusively the consequence of a perceived Soviet moderation in Pland," Haig said. He said it would be a mistake to "let Poland enclusively dominate our assessment of future relations with the Soviet Union and return to an attitude of noraml if the situation in Poland is not aggravated."
Haig acknowledged that tensions in Poland had eased but he warned the crisis is not past. He also said Reagan took into account "certain domestic considerations" in his decision to lift the embargo, noting "this farm bill and even his economic program could be in jeopardy on this issue."
But Baldrige dismissed the idea that domestic politics, in an effort to win support for the administration's economic recovery plan or its pending farm bill, played the major part in the decision. "Political reasons in this town have to be considered, along with everything else, but that was far away from the major reason," he said.
Baldrige said Reagan decided to end the embargo because "it was not his embargo in the first place. . . . It was Jimmy Carter's embargo."
Baldrige said the president never said he would lift the embargo if he received some concession from the Soviets, nor did the administration receive any private assurances from the Soviets regarding the situation in Poland.
"He's never stated it would take a quid pro quo," Baldrige said. "The fact is he didn't think it was an effective enough tool, a kind of retribution again a move in Afghanistan when it was first imposed.
"The question is to send the right kind of signal to the Russians so there's no mistake about our policy and our intentions, so they understand that," Baldrige said. "Once that's done, and it's been done in the last three months, there's no real reason to keep that embargo on."
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan told reporters yesterday that the administration didn't lift a high-technology embargo against the Soviets, imposed shortly after the a grain embargo, because high-technology goods have defense and political overtones.