The Reagan administration is giving "serious consideration" to offering a proposal designed to break the deadlock in U.S.-Soviet negotiations on reducing intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, White House officials said yesterday.
One White House official said such a proposal, calling for an interim agreement allowing both sides to deploy a limited number of missiles in Europe until they are banned there, might be placed before President Reagan as early as next week.
Another said that it was "conceivable" that the proposal, if approved by Reagan, could be ready for submission to the Soviets before the current round of negotiations in Geneva recesses March 28.
The officials stressed that because details of such a proposal have yet to be worked out presidential consideration of it could be delayed until after the Geneva talks recess.
But they said it is likely that a new U.S. proposal will be made eventually. Faced with calls from foreign leaders and U.S. politicians for an interim agreement, the Reagan administration is anxious to demonstrate that it is willing to negotiate a genuine reduction in arms with the Soviets.
Reagan's original "zero-zero" plan, which the Soviets have rejected, would require the Soviets to dismantle their arsenal of more than 600 medium-range nuclear missiles targeted on western Europe in return for U.S. agreement not to deploy 572 Pershing II and Cruise missiles in five European countries, beginning December in West Germany.
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Italian Foreign Minister Emilio Colombo, while approving the Reagan administration's goal, have urged the United States to make the first move toward trying to achieve an interim agreement for deployment of fewer missiles on both sides.
Adding to this pressure on the administration, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) said recently that "There is no point in letting the Soviets score a propaganda coup by being the first to move away from their current negotiating position."
Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, who had vigorously opposed any compromise of the administration's negotiation position, said in a news conference last week and again in a television interview Sunday that the United States now might consider an interim agreement if the Soviets agreed to continue negotiating a ban on all U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles in Europe.
Administration officials also emphasized yesterday that any interim agreement should be considered only a step toward reaching that goal.
But there is disagreement within the administration over whether the Soviets would respond seriously to a new U.S. proposal.
One administration official said that, whatever the U.S. proposal contains, "the Soviets are likely to reject it."
Another official said he believed the Soviets would negotiate seriously, but only after deployment of the first U.S. missiles in West Germany.
However, the officials acknowledged that even the friendly Kohl government would find it politically difficult to begin deployment if the United States failed to demonstrate flexibility in its negotiating position at Geneva.
By declaring a willingness to be flexible, the Reagan administration had hoped to force the Soviets to make the first promising counterproposal at Geneva.
But during the recent West German election campaign, both Kohl and his Social Democratic opponent, Hans-Jochen Vogel, suggested that Washington instead make a new proposal after the March 6 elections.
After Kohl's decisive victory, U.S. officials acknowledged, his call for a U.S. proposal of an interim agreement at Geneva created a perception in Europe that such a plan would be forthcoming.
Administration officials said yesterday, however, that a new U.S. proposal would not rule out deployment of Pershing II missiles, which could strike the Soviet Union from West German bases much more rapidly than could Cruise missiles.
Any new proposal would include some Pershings among the reduced number of U.S. missiles to be deployed in Europe under an interim agreement, the officials said.
On the record yesterday, the White House would only reiterate what Reagan said in a Feb. 24 speech to the American Legion, in which he opened the door for the possibility of an interim agreement while insisting that his zero-zero proposal held the "moral high ground" of the arms-control debate.
Asked at the daily White House briefing about this, presidential spokesman Larry Speakes repeated that the European allies support the president's goal of eliminating intermediate-range nuclear weapons from Europe.
"If there are ideas that will help us to achieve that goal, we would certainly consider them," Speakes said. " . . . As the president has said, we do not have a 'take-it-or-leave it' approach."