A Russian freighter left Glasgow, Scotland, with six turbines for the Soviet Union yesterday and the Reagan administration immediately slapped sanctions on the manufacturer, Britain's John Brown Engineering Ltd., for shipping equipment with U.S.-made or -licensed parts for the Soviet-Western European gas pipeline.
The John Brown sanctions were of the more limited variety adopted by the administration after earlier, broader measures sparked protests by European governments and affected industries both there and here.
But Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige said any further moves to alleviate growing frictions with U.S. allies in Europe over the pipeline sanctions would have to come from the Europeans.
Companies in Britain, France and Italy have now been placed under the sanctions and Baldrige said yesterday that "there are no present negotiations" under way over the issue. Washington Post London correspondent Peter Osnos reported that the Europeans themselves now were divided over a possible approach to the United States.
There were also signs yesterday that Japan could become embroiled in the pipeline dispute with the disclosure in Tokyo that a Japanese steelmaker in August had shipped $2.3 million worth of valves, possibly made with U.S.-licensed technology, for the Soviet pipeline.
A Commerce Department spokesman said yesterday that the Japanese reports were under study and that the Japanese company, Japan Steel Works, could also be placed under sanctions if it is found that U.S.-licensed technology was involved.
The sanctions against John Brown and three of its subsidiaries prohibit them from exporting U.S.-licensed oil and gas related products, services and technology. The original sanctions announced Aug. 26 covered all U.S.-made or-licensed products, services or technology.
Baldrige said this policy was revised when it was realized that a number of affected companies could face bankruptcy. One company, Creusot-Loire of France, remains under the original sanctions.
Each of the companies had shipped equipment with U.S.-made or -licensed parts for the pipeline, which is designed to transmit gas from Soviet Siberia to Western European buyers.
The Reagan administration adopted the sanctions policy in retaliation for what it regarded as the Soviet-inspired imposition of martial law in Poland last winter.
In response to questions, Baldrige said "we can always hope" that negotiations will resolve differences with the European countries over how otherwise to respond to the Soviets, but his tone indicated that the administration was in no mood to make a public gesture at this time.
He said the administration remained receptive to alternatives and "if a unified approach were offered that was as effective or more effective than sanctions, we would have to listen very hard."
Osnos reported from London that diplomatic sources said France had refused to go along with a British-Italian plan for stiffening credit terms in future transactions with the Soviets. West Germany also was said to be reluctant to tighten credit, but less so than the French.
These reports of disarray among the Western Europeans appeared to offer little hope for the kind of initiative Baldrige said the administration would welcome.
He acknowledged that so far the sanctions measures had produced no changes in the internal situation in Poland but argued that "they haven't had a chance to work yet" against the Soviets.
He also defended the sanctions as effective steps against the companies, noting that the parts shipped so far are only a small part of total orders, "so the effect remains to be seen."
Baldrige said that the potential loss in sales to the affected companies ranged from $75 million to $600 million, with a total figure for all companies together in excess of $1 billion.
Osnos reported from London:
Last Friday officials from the four countries met in London and drafted a series of proposals, but they apparently were unable to agree on how to implement them despite a statement declaring their "solidarity."
The package contains a number of elements, sources said, but the most critical would involve placing restrictions on the amount of credit to be given the Soviets and eliminating any special benefits to Moscow's buyers. This would be a further measure to action already taken by the Europeans this summer lifting the price of credit to the Soviets by about 4.5 percent over the cost that prevailed when the pipeline contracts were signed.
France has balked, according to sources at European Economic Community headquarters in Brussels, on both "political and substantive grounds." The political grounds are a reluctance to be seen giving in to American pressure, particularly when the legality of the U.S. ban has not been proven in court action either in France or the United States, the sources said.
The substantive grounds are that tightening credit to the Soviets will significantly affect the ability of French firms to sell goods at a price the Soviets will pay. "If the French can't play with credits," their trade with the Soviets is going to go down, one informed official said.
West Germany, which is the third largest exporter to the Soviets among industrialized countries, after Japan and the United States, also has a lot to lose from credit restrictions. Moreover, Bonn is presently distracted by domestic political turbulence with the government of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in danger of falling.
Other aspects of the proposed compromise would reaffirm limitations on the supply of strategic goods to the Soviets by strengthening the mandate of COCOM, the coordinating committee of alliance countries that determines what may be sold to the East Bloc. In addition, the Europeans would seek to diversify their natural gas suppliers.
These measures evidently pose less of a difficulty than the credit problem. At one stage in the bargaining last week it was thought that a meeting with trade specialists from the Reagan administration might be useful, but such a session was called off when the Europeans failed to agree on what they wanted to do. Instead, the four are continuing to explore options that might be acceptable to all, and only then will the United States be brought in.