Administration officials said yesterday that there has been no shift in the U.S. position in the Euromissiles negotiations following the results of West Germany's elections, but they pointedly did not rule out the possibility of such a change at a later time.
"I don't want to close the door to a new U.S. proposal" in the Geneva negotiations with the Soviet Union, Richard Burt, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. He added that the United States is "in constant touch" with western European governments on issues in the talks.
Speaking of President Reagan's "zero option" calling for no land-based, medium-range missiles on either the Soviet or U.S. side, Burt said he did not believe the administration would move away from it as the best possible outcome and a negotiating goal.
However, he did not rule out the possibility that the United States might propose or accept an interim arrangement if it meets basic conditions laid down by Reagan in a speech to an American Legion convention Feb. 22.
Subcommittee Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) urged the administration to shift its ground, saying a change will be necessary in order to get an agreement, and adding, "If the United States does not come forward now . . . you'll lose the initiative."
White House and State Department spokesmen, under questioning by reporters, said there is no change in Reagan's backing for the "zero option." State Department spokesman John Hughes said, "Should he Reagan want to change it, I'm sure he will make a statement."
In the most complete exposition in recent weeks of U.S. views on the new leadership in Moscow, Burt told the House subcommittee that Yuri V. Andropov has made more personnel changes since assuming the Soviet leadership in November than did Nikita S. Khrushchev or Leonid I. Brezhnev in comparable periods of time.
Andropov's shakeups "appear to be aimed at putting in place a network of younger and possibly more energetic supporters capable of ensuring execution of his policy once it is more fully developed," Burt said. The hallmark of the Andropov policy to date has been continuity in both domestic and foreign policy but "a more energetic version of continuity," he said.
On specific issues of Soviet foreign policy, Burt said:
The Andropov leadership "has as yet developed no new discernable strategy for dealing with the dilemma of Afghanistan."
In the Middle East, Moscow "remains on the sidelines" except for strengthening its military relationship with Syria, evidently a reference to the arrival there of new Soviet SAM5 antiaircraft missiles and crews.
In high-level discussions, the Soviets are seeking "greater maneuver room" with China, but "neither side in these talks seems inclined to make concessions that would open the way for substantial movement forward." Nevertheless, Moscow will seek to continue this dialogue.
Asked about statements by Reagan suggesting an early downfall of the Soviet Union, Burt said that, in terms of administration policy, "I don't think we believe the Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse." He added, "We do recognize the Soviet Union is facing some very severe problems," and cited nationality and energy problems as major examples.
Burt said discussions have begun within the western alliance in search of common policies on relations with the Soviets and eastern Europe in trade, financial flows, energy development and technology transfer. Washington will be in better position in about two weeks to know how much time these studies will take, he said.