Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko today canceled plans to attend next week's session of the United Nations General Assembly following U.S. restrictions on his flight to New York.
Gromyko's decision not to travel to the United Nations, announced by the official Soviet news agency Tass, is the latest twist in the East-West crisis following the downing of a South Korean airliner by Soviet fighters Sept. 1. Unless a solution is found, it will be the first time in more than 20 years that the Soviet minister has been absent from a General Assembly session and a blow to hopes of any early improvement in the international climate.
The Tass announcement said that Gromyko's planned trip had become "impossible" because of the failure of the U.S. authorities to ensure his safety and the arrival and servicing of a special Soviet plane. It added that the United States had violated its obligations as the host country for the United Nations.
Yesterday the State Department announced it supported the decision by the governors of New York and New Jersey to refuse to allow Gromyko's special civilian jet to land at civilian airports. The governors ordered the ban because they said the landing could trigger public demonstrations and place "enormous strain on the police and security forces of the two states."
The Soviet decision was interpreted here as a sign that the Kremlin regards the refusal to grant landing rights as a major diplomatic affront. In addition to holding the post of foreign minister since 1957, Gromyko is a senior member of the Communist Party's ruling Politburo.
Western diplomats here believe that Moscow is also concerned about the possibility of anti-Soviet demonstrations in New York to protest the destruction of the South Korean jumbo jet with 269 people on board.
In New York, U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar issued a statement saying that he hoped "an early and satisfactory solution can be worked out in the interests of the international community as a whole." U.N. officials are understood to have advised the State Department that it had no right to prevent landing of Gromyko's plane.
The wording of the Soviet statement implied that Gromyko would be prepared to change his mind and fly to New York if "normal" conditions could be created for his reception. The State Department said yesterday that a special Soviet military flight would be allowed to land at a military airport, but this is evidently not regarded as an acceptable compromise by Moscow.
The United States is supporting a two-week ban on civil aviation links with Moscow by 15 western countries and has closed offices of the Soviet airline Aeroflot.
The 74-year-old Soviet foreign minister had been due to address the General Assembly on Sept. 26--a day after President Reagan. The occasion earlier had been seen as an opportunity for him to renew a dialogue with U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz following their acrimonious meeting in Madrid last week.
The Madrid meeting, which took place at the closing session of a conference to review European security and human rights, was devoted largely to angry exchanges about the South Korean airliner. According to the accounts of both sides, there was little--if any--substantive discussion of other major East-West issues such as arms control.
The Soviet Union has continued its propaganda campaign in the mass media seeking to place responsibility for the airliner tragedy on the United States. An article in the Army newspaper yesterday said that the United States had been using KAL planes for espionage purposes for well over 10 years.
A Tass commentary tonight described as "illegal" and "lopsided" a resolution adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal calling for an independent inquiry into the destruction of the Boeing 747. It said that the group's governing council had "sidestepped the main point--the fact of the criminal violation by the spy plane of the Soviet Union's sovereignty."
The Tass reaction implied that the Soviets would not cooperate with any independent investigation. Soviet spokesmen countered by asking the United States, South Korea and Japan to cooperate with an inquiry set up by the Kremlin.
The civil aviation organization's resolution was supported by 26 members of its 33-nation governing council, with only the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia voting against. Tass today said it was "regrettable" that some delegations had allowed themselves to be "led by Washington" and added that the group's work had become more "complicated" as a result.
There was no suggestion in the Tass statement that the Kremlin would boycott the U.N. session entirely.