The Reagan administration has decided not to launch new Soviet-American negotiations on strategic arms in next week's meeting of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko and to downgrade the meeting in time and scope, administration sources said yesterday.
Officials attributed the decisions, which became known as the Haig-Gromyko session in Geneva next Tuesday was formally announced in Washington and Moscow, to the continued "deterioration" of the situation in Poland, though some of the officials also said that domestic criticism by former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger and others had played a part.
Until recently it had been widely believed, both inside and outside the administration, that the forthcoming Haig-Gromyko meeting would be the vehicle for the two nuclear superpowers to agree on the beginning of new negotiations about limiting their strategic arsenals.
On Dec. 11, two days before the martial law crackdown in Poland, Haig told a news conference at North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Brussels that he would raise the "timing and venue" of entering into new strategic arms talks with Gromyko in the round of talks "scheduled for Geneva on the 26th and 27th of January."
As announced by the two sides yesterday, next week's session will be limited to a single day of talks on Jan. 26. State Department spokesman Alan Romberg answered questions about the change by saying, "We are confident in the current climate we can accomplish our objectives in one day."
Romberg went on to say that from the U.S. viewpoint "the primary focus will be on Poland and its impact on East-West relations in general." Other sources said Haig also intends to raise Soviet activity in Afghanistan and Cuba as well as other matters regarded as detrimental to Soviet-American relations. But the sources said Haig does not expect to raise the opening of the strategic arms negotiations.
The question of "linkage" between Soviet regional activities and arms control negotiations has been a controversial one over several administrations. The Reagan administration came to office vowing to link Soviet behavior to negotiations more firmly than in the past, but since the outset of martial law in Poland the administration seemed to be backing away from this position.
Haig, speaking to a news conference Jan. 6 on the visit here of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, said arms control negotiations are outside the context of normal East-West relations because of "fundamental advantages to the West as well as the East in the continuation of a dialogue seeking control of nuclear weapons." Haig was referring specifically to the Geneva talks on limiting medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe, which began Nov. 30 and are continuing despite the Polish crisis, but his words also seemed to apply to strategic arms discussions.
Reagan and then Haig also spoke of the U.S. interest in a Soviet-American summit meeting and other high-level discussions with Soviet leaders, saying that communication between governments is even more important than usual in times of crisis.
Kissinger, in articles for the op-ed page of The New York Times published last Sunday and Monday, attacked the administration's response to martial law in Poland, and specifically objected to the Haig-Gromyko meeting as well as to the abandonment of "linkage" in arms control negotiations. Haig reportedly bitterly denounced the articles by his predecessor and former White House boss during a staff meeting last Monday.
One official familiar with the policy making minimized the impact of the increasingly vocal objections of Kissinger and others, saying the decision not to launch strategic arms talks at this time and to downgrade the Gromyko meeting had evolved over a period of days and was primarily caused by the failure of the Soviet-backed regime in Poland to moderate its crackdown.
Other officials, though, said the views of Kissinger and conservatives within and outside of the administration had been influential.
One source familiar with administration thinking said the new presidential adviser on national security, William P. Clark, had taken a strong position on the subject along the same lines. An important argument, according to this source, was that beginning strategic arms talks during the Polish crisis would court later political trouble.
There is no indication that the administration has backed away from its overall commitment to such talks, and thus officials expect that the United States will seek to begin them at a later time when international circumstances are more favorable.