The Soviet Union today moved to dispel suggestions in the West that it might make concessions at negotiations over intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe to regain political momentum following the furor over the downing of a South Korean airliner.
At a news conference in Moscow, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Kornienko insisted there was no connection between the missile talks and the airliner tragedy. He described as "wishful thinking" a recent remark by West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher that the Kremlin might be prepared to compromise over the issue of whether British and French nuclear missile systems should be included in the Geneva negotiations.
Moscow's demand that it be allowed to offset 162 British and French missiles with its SS20s has become one of the principal stumbling blocks at the talks. Western governments say the British and French weapons constitute independent strategic arsenals that cannot be compared to the Soviet medium-range SS20 force.
Kornienko rejected a suggestion by a western journalist that the Kremlin pay compensation to relatives of the victims of the airliner disaster as a "humanitarian gesture" to improve the atmosphere at the Geneva talks. He reiterated the Soviet position that the United States bore moral and financial responsibility for the affair on the grounds that the plane was engaged in an "espionage mission."
Western diplomats here said the hard line adopted by Kornienko appeared designed to bolster Moscow's negotiating position at the Geneva talks on intermediate-range nuclear weapons, which resumed last week. The deputy foreign minister also seemed eager to refocus international attention on the issue of arms control following the East-West furor that erupted when Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet interceptor jet over the island of Sakhalin.
"The Soviet Union has no intention of adjusting its position at the arms talks as a result of the Korean airliner incident," Kornienko said.
Speculation in some Western capitals that the Kremlin might have been prepared to make concessions in Geneva was heightened after a meeting between Genscher and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko at the closing session of the Madrid conference on European security. The West German foreign minister quoted his Soviet counterpart as acknowledging that the British and French systems had a dual role--part strategic and part intermediate.
Genscher was quoted as saying that a change in the Soviet position on this issue could "clear the way to an agreement," but he added that it was necessary "to wait and see whether this is a breakthrough."
Today Kornienko said that the West German foreign minister had been "not quite accurate" in the way he relayed Gromyko's remarks to the press. The Soviet position, he explained, was that it did not matter what the French and British weapon systems were called as long as they were included in Western totals at the negotiations.
The Soviet official said that Genscher's "impression" that Moscow might forego its insistence on the inclusion of French and British missiles is "what we call in Russian 'wishful thinking.' " He repeated the words "wishful thinking" in English and German for emphasis.
Western diplomats noted that the Bonn government has taken a lead in seeking ways to promote a compromise at the Geneva talks because of pressure from peace groups campaigning against the scheduled deployment of U.S. cruise and Pershing II missiles at the end of this year. One of the possible solutions that has been explored by West German officials is the idea that French and British systems should be considered in the broader context of the strategic arms reduction talks that are also taking place in Geneva.
Asked whether it might help to merge the two sets of negotiations, Kornienko said he saw no point in this as the American attitude to both the intermediate-range missile talks and the strategic arms limitation negotiations was "negative."
"Unfortunately in this case a negative multiplied by a negative doesn't produce anything positive," he said.
The Soviet minister did not, however, rule out the possibility of combining the two negotiations over the long term. The idea has recently gained favor among some missile experts in Western Europe as a way of avoiding the confusion over different types of nuclear weapons.
Kornienko said there were indications that the Americans were attempting to use the plane incident to create problems at the intermediate-range missile negotiations. He cited a statement last week by U.S. negotiator Paul Nitze that the talks "cannot but be overshadowed by what happened to the plane."
The tone and thrust of Kornienko's news conference, which was an unusual event by Moscow standards, was interpreted here as a signal to the White House not to take advantage of the Soviet Union's present diplomatic isolation.
"It's not the Russian style to give away something for nothing and they want to make sure that everybody understands this," a Western diplomat here said.
Kornienko said that whether a satisfactory agreement was reached in Geneva depended on the United States and its western allies. He reiterated warnings that the Soviet Union would take countermeasures if the West went ahead with plans to install 572 cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe.
Kornienko reiterated an offer made first by Soviet leader Yuri Andropov last month to destroy some of the present SS20 force if an agreement was reached in Geneva.
Official Soviet figures for the balance of intermediate-range forces in Europe were provided by the deputy chief of the general staff, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, who appeared at the news conference with Kornienko.
He said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had 857 medium-range nuclear delivery vehicles in Europe made up of bombers and land- and sea-based missiles. He put the Soviet total at 938 units made up of SS20 missiles, older SS4s and bombers.
Marshal Akhromeyev acknowledged that the Soviet Union had a superiority over NATO in missiles but said that this was offset by the NATO superiority in bombers.
According to Western figures, the Soviet Union has about 250 triple-warhead SS20 missiles targeted on Western Europe and another 100 in the Far East. The United States has argued against including the bombers in the intermediate-range negotiations on the grounds that the issue is too complex and that the Soviet total is much larger than has been acknowledged officially.