Although the White House said yesterday it was "disappointed" by Moscow's initial public reaction to President Reagan's dramatic arms control proposals, administration officials said privately they are "neither surprised nor discouraged" by that response.
"Nobody expected that they would immediately embrace" the president's call for elimination of planned and existing U.S. and Soviet intermediate-range missile forces in Europe, the official said of the Russians. What, if anything, ever results from the Reagan initiative "will only come about as the result of hard bargaining" in negotiations that undoubtedly will be long and difficult.
Talks on limiting the size of opposing nuclear-tipped missile forces open in Geneva on Nov. 30. The American negotiating team is to be led by Paul H. Nitze, a former Pentagon official and specialist in both arms and arms control. The Soviet team is to be led by Yuli A. Kvitsinsky, a veteran diplomat with some background in arms control but, perhaps more importantly, also with extensive experience in West Germany. Kvitsinsky most recently was the second-ranking Soviet diplomat in Bonn.
West Germany is the keystone to the planned allied deployment of 572 new Pershing II and cruise missiles to balance some 600 Soviet missiles already fielded. But there is also a sizable protest movement in West Germany against the new American weapons and some specialists here believe Kvitsinsky may have been chosen for the top job because of his potential capability for influencing West German public opinion if he chooses to make public statements during the course of the talks.
This is one reason, officials here suggest, why the question of how much either side will agree to discuss in public once the negotiations get under way is an important point to be worked out in the early stages.
Such negotiations are normally conducted without much public statement. But Reagan, in an effort to dramatize American interest in arms control to worried Europeans, took the unusual step of announcing his opening position in a globally televised speech Wednesday and this could complicate agreement on how the working sessions will be conducted.
A number of sources here yesterday said privately that Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. had ordered a halt in the administration to any further interpretation of the president's proposals by lower level officials beyond the official view given on Wednesday. The idea apparently is to avoid any conflicting interpretations from developing on questions that might be raised about the proposals.
Yesterday, White House officials made clear they were "extremely pleased" by the acclaim that the president's address and proposals won both in this country and in virtually all allied capitals. Officials estimated that Reagan's address was seen on television by 9 million to 10 million people in East and West Germany alone, aside from millions more in other countries.
On Capitol Hill, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution commending Reagan for his proposals and pledging support for them. The vote was 382 to 3, with 14 members voting present. The Republican-led Senate endosed the resolution by 95 to 0.
There were also these further developments:
* Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, in an interview on the CBS morning television news program, made clear that the president's proposals in no way mean backing away from the big defense buildup to "re-arm America." The United States, he said, cannot negotiate from weakness if effective agreements are to be reached. Privately, officials expressed the opinion that it would take an actual agreement, rather than just indications of progress, to halt deployment of the new U.S. missiles.
* The president has invited West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, a key figure in the European effort to get the United States to propose major cutbacks, to meet with him at the White House on Jan. 5 while Schmidt is vacationing in this country.