The foreign ministers of China and the Soviet Union met here today for the highest-level talks between their two countries since 1969. Their meeting suggested a major change in the atmosphere since the two Communist giants drifted apart over ideology, territory and other issues two decades ago.
Following the 90-minute session between Andrei Gromyko and Huang Hua, the Soviet news agency Tass quoted the two sides as "expressing mutual consent" to continue their political dialogue that began last month.
Authoritative diplomatic sources who conferred with Huang yesterday quoted him as saying he was bringing "a special message from the Chinese leadership stating its intention to hasten the process of negotiations in order to begin normalizing" Sino-Soviet relations.
Tass quoted Huang as saying, "The Chinese side hopes that by joint efforts of both countries relations between them will be gradually normalized." It quoted Gromyko as saying that Moscow "attaches much significance to normalization" of its relations with China and that "it will continue striving for these relations to be switched to the lines of good-neighborliness."
Moscow television showed the two men smiling broadly. The last high-level meeting between the two countries was in 1969 when premier Alexei Kosygin met with premier Chou En-lai at Peking airport following a small shooting war that capped several years' tensions along their border.
The Gromyko-Huang meeting climaxed an exceptionally intensive series of diplomatic exchanges in Moscow involving foreign dignitaries who had come to attend the funeral of Leonid I. Brezhnev yesterday.
The new Soviet Communist Party leader, Yuri Andropov, gave a particularly warm greeting to Huang yesterday at a formal Kremlin reception after the funeral. Later in the day, Andropov met for 30 minutes with Vice President George Bush and Secretary of State George P. Shultz for what Bush described as "substantive" talks about Soviet-American relations.
According to all indications here, the Americans raised the issues of human rights, arms control and various regional problems with Andropov and Gromyko. There is an impression here that the Soviets are expecting additional signals on the crucial issue of arms limitations if they are to suspend a clearly forecast new arms buildup to counter what they term an "unprecedented" American weapons development program.
At a Kremlin luncheon for nearly 300 visiting American business executives and congressmen, Gromyko's first deputy, Georgy Kornienko, today sharply assailed the American positions at the two sets of Soviet-American arms negotiations in Geneva.
He singled out for criticism Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger who "continues to curse the SALT II treaty and he hasn't even read it."
"They are those who would want us to remake our rockets to be exactly like American rockets, to remake ourselves to be just like Americans with the same attitude toward human rights, freedom and everything else.
"Let us meet and discuss whether it is better to have a democracy where everyone works or to have a democracy where there is 10 percent unemployment," Kornienko said.
He said the Soviet Union is prepared for deeper reduction of strategic arms of "25 percent or more but without changing the balance that was achieved in SALT II. The present U.S. administration does not want such a balance."
It was unclear whether Kornienko was merely venting the frustration and rancors of the past two years or was sending another signal to Washington. Apart from the executives, who are here to attend a meeting of a Soviet-American trade council, the audience included U.S. Ambassador Arthur Hartman, Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), and a number of U.S. diplomats.
It was apparent that the new leadership is likely to be more flexible toward China, particularly because of the poor state of Soviet-American relations.
The Chinese are said to have set their course in seeking better ties with Moscow for similar reasons. Angered by President Reagan's policy of providing weapons to Taiwan, they have gradually responded to repeated overtures from Moscow as a means of putting pressure on Washington.
Developments here this week suggest that what may have started as a tactical move by the two Communist neighbors could eventually result in a more significant relationship, although not of the kind that had existed before the break.
Senior diplomats said much of this may depend on how the Reagan administration manages its relations with Peking and Moscow in the coming months.
The Russians have gone out of their way to tell the visiting Americans that they attach great importance to relations with the United States. As Kornienko put it, "many other events have been canceled in these days of mourning, but not the meeting" of the U.S.-Soviet trade council which had not met for four years.
As he did yesterday, Andropov today held a series of meetings with foreign visitors, including Cuban President Fidel Castro and French Communist Party leader Georges Marchais.
The choice of whom he met with indicated that the new leader was focusing on pressing problems. Andropov did not grant an audience to any Warsaw Pact leader, but met with the Americans, West Germans, Indians, Pakistanis and Afghan leader Babrak Karmal.
It is believed in diplomatic circles that Andropov in his talks with Karmal, Indian President Indira Gandhi and Pakistani leader Zia ul-Haq was trying to seek a solution to the problem of Afghanistan. The same issue is believed to have been discussed by Gromyko and Huang. Tass, in its report on the Andropov-Zia meeting, said the talks "touched on questions concerning the situation in Afghanistan."
The December 1979 Afghan invasion was the decisive point in the collapse of detente. Apart from deterioration in Soviet-American relations, it also prompted Peking to break off the first political contacts with Moscow in more than a decade. The talks had started in the fall of 1979, two months before the Soviet troops went into Afghanistan.