Reagan administration officials said today that the Soviet Union would have to improve its international behavior and demonstrate good faith in arms control negotiations before President Reagan would agree to a summit meeting with Soviet leader Yuri V. Andropov.
Reacting to Andropov's suggestion in an interview with Hearst newspapers that an adequately prepared summit would be desirable, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said the administration saw "nothing new" in the idea.
"Our position is, as it always has been, that certainly with adequate preparation and reasonable prospects for a successful outcome, the president would be interested," Speakes said. "Right now there is nothing scheduled."
Senior administration officials said that Reagan would require "tangible evidence" of Soviet intentions before he would agree even to any preliminary steps toward a summit meeting.
These officials hinted that they regard Andropov's statement as little more than a public relations gesture at this point. One said that the new Soviet leader was trying to "pull off a propaganda coup" that would show his credentials as an international leader.
These officials ticked off three criteria that the administration would use to determine Soviet sincerity:
* Improvement in Soviet international behavior, especially in Afghanistan and Poland. The administration believes that the Soviets are using Afghanistan as a testing ground for chemical warfare and wants them to halt their attacks on Afghan villages and noncombatants.
* Better Soviet-U.S. relations, which one official said would be aided by "more reasonable" treatment of Soviet dissidents.
* Real progress in the nuclear arms control negotiations that will resume early next year in Geneva.
In the absence of such tangible actions, U.S. officials said the administration would remain skeptical about Soviet intentions.
Administration officials are trying to walk a tightrope between open rejection of overtures by the new Soviet leadership and the creation of false expectations about improved relations between the two superpowers.
Time and again today Speakes warned reporters not to over-interpret the significance of Andropov's statement, which the White House spokesman insisted was not a formal call for a summit meeting.
Andropov's statement, which Speakes read at the briefing, was carefully worded. Responding to a question about his reaction to a proposal for a summit by former president Richard M. Nixon, Andropov said:
"The Soviet leadership has always viewed contacts at the highest level as one of the most effective methods of developing relations among states. Now, we, too, hold this view. But, of course, good preparation is necessary to make such a meeting a success."
Speakes said that such "good preparation" had long been a precondition of President Reagan for any summit meeting. The White House spokesman emphasized that no preparatory meetings aimed at a summit are planned.
Nonetheless, the president has often struck an optimistic tone about the prospects of a new nuclear arms control agreement with Moscow.
Arriving in Palm Springs on Wednesday, the president said he thought the Soviets were negotiating in "good earnest" toward such a treaty. Edward L. Rowny, the chief U.S. arms control negotiator at Geneva, said Wednesday that he thought there was a "50-50 chance" of reaching an agreement with the Soviets in 1983.
In the meantime, Reagan is prepared to push ahead with his demands for record military spending and building of the MX missile, which was sidetracked by Congress this month.
However, administration officials ran into difficulty today in trying to decide on the composition of an advisory commission that will make recommendations to Congress on an MX deployment system. Reagan has decided to name Brent Scowcroft, national security affairs adviser to President Ford, as chairman, and appoint Harold Brown, defense secretary to President Carter, as one of the members.
Melvin R. Laird, defense secretary under Nixon, is also high on the list of considerations. Administration officials said that prospective conflict-of-interest questions have been raised about some of the other persons suggested as members of the advisory group.
In another action today, Reagan announced in a statement that the United States would not help pay the cost of a preparatory commission that will implement the Law of the Sea treaty.