The United States was urged today by West European allies to present new proposals at the deadlocked Geneva arms talks with the Soviet Union before a two-month recess begins on March 29.
At a meeting here of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's consultative group on arms control, several European representatives told Assistant Secretary of State Richard Burt that they "want to see some movement" before negotiations on restricting medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe adjourn in the next 10 days, according to American officials.
The governments of Britain, West Germany and Italy, where modern nuclear missiles are scheduled to be deployed later this year if the arms talks fail, are known to be concerned about the hiatus in the arms talks and to want the United States to show more flexibility to defuse the prospect of massive public demonstrations against the new weapons. Belgium and the Netherlands also are scheduled to receive the missiles.
The concerned governments also are said to believe that the West cannot afford to wait until June, when the talks resume, to offer a new proposal if some kind of partial arms control agreement, or interim solution, is to be achieved this year.
So far, the United States has held firm to President Reagan's zero-option proposal, which offers to cancel deployment of 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles only if the Soviet Union dismantles its arsenal of nuclear-tipped rockets aimed at Western Europe.
Joseph Luns, NATO's secretary general, said the U.S. goal of eliminating all medium-range missiles in Europe is "not attainable." He said a less ambitious proposal may be needed to reach an arms agreement with the Soviets, according to the text of an interview to be broadcast by Belgian television on Sunday.
"Practically speaking, we have now realized that the zero option is not attainable because the Russians say 'no,' " Luns said. The zero option, he said, is like a religious dogma--something that needs to be proclaimed on Sunday, but may not be practical the rest of the week.
"We are now headed for an interim solution," Luns said.
Today's session of senior foreign and defense officials from allied capitals took place as a serious policy-making debate was heating up in Washington, where President Reagan is reportedly weighing new negotiating options for the arms talks prior to an expected decision next week.
At a press conference following the meeting, Burt said he "heard a variety of views that will be taken into account" in the current policy review.
Although at least one NATO ally expressed support for the notion that there might be some value in letting the Soviets contemplate the pressures of full deployment by the West later this year if no progress is achieved in the arms talks, most European allies--particularly the five countries that will accept the new missiles--favor an early initiative so that Moscow can ponder such a proposal once the negotiations recess.
At the same time, these European governments hope that such signs of U.S. flexibility would effectively rebuff claims that Washington is not intent on negotiating seriously and even serve to dampen the fervor of anticipated antimissile rallies in Europe that may occur as early as the Easter weekend.
Despite the general acclaim voiced by the allies in appreciation of close consultations carried out in recent months over negotiating strategy and deployment plans, European delegations said it was necessary to emphasize that they want to be kept fully apprised of "the whole package" and "any specific proposals" that the United States may submit in forthcoming negotiations.
In his press conference, Burt stressed that "President Reagan has made clear that the zero option is not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and that Ambassador Paul Nitze is empowered to explore any proposed solutions consistent with certain basic criteria."
Burt listed these four conditions as: equality of rights and limits for the United States and Soviet Union, no inclusion of French and British nuclear systems, global limits that preclude transfer of Soviet SS20s to Asia, and verifiability.
He said that the number of Soviet SS20 launchers now deployed has risen to 351, with a total of 1,053 warheads. He added that when NATO decided in December 1979 to pursue negotiations over medium-range nuclear weapons but deploy new missiles this year if they failed, the Soviets had only installed 140 SS20s.
When asked why the United States has proceeded to build 311 of the powerful Pershing II missiles when only 108 are slated for deployment later this year in West Germany, Burt replied that it is quite common to build more than required for deployment to cope with unexpected problems.
"Some of them break," he said.