The Soviet Union suspended negotiations with the United States to limit intercontinental nuclear weapons today, saying that deployment of Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe has changed "the overall strategic situation," which must now be reexamined.
During a 35-minute meeting at the Soviet mission here, chief Soviet negotiator Viktor Karpov told his American counterpart, Edward Rowny, that Moscow felt compelled to review all issues under discussion at the talks and could not set a resumption date for the next round.
In a formal statement later, Rowny expressed regret over the Soviet action. He said he proposed that both delegations meet again in early February and that he hoped the Soviet Union would soon agree on a date for "resuming these negotiations which are in the interest of both our nations and of the entire world."
"We cannot agree with Soviet assertions that developments outside the scope of these negotiations require the Soviet Union to withhold agreement on a resumption date for the sixth round of START," (the acronym for Strategic Arms Reduction Talks), Rowny said.
In Washington, President Reagan responded in low-key fashion, saying he was "very hopeful" the Soviet delegation would return to the talks early next year. Details, Page A45.
The Soviet Union has now walked out of both sets of nuclear arms talks with the United States following the arrival last month of Pershing II and cruise missiles in Britain, Italy and West Germany. On Nov. 23, Soviet negotiator Yuli Kvitsinsky announced that Moscow was discontinuing negotiations on medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe and would not fix a resumption date.
U.S. officials said they were neither surprised nor alarmed by the Soviet suspensions, which they characterized as part of an escalating campaign of "fear tactics" to intimidate European countries from fulfilling plans to deploy the new missiles over the next five years. Once the Soviets conclude that efforts to sway European public opinion can backfire, the officials said, they will return to the bargaining table.
"We think they will be back, even if we do not know when, simply because it is in their own long-term interests to do so," a U.S. official said.
In Moscow, qualified Soviet sources emphasized that while the strategic talks have been suspended, they have not been broken off, Washington Post correspondent Dusko Doder reported. The sources said Moscow expects to resume these negotiations sometime next year after a reassessment.
The text of today's statement by the official Soviet news agency Tass also suggested that the START talks are going to be reviewed, not terminated. Two weeks ago, when the Russians walked out of the medium-range missile talks, Tass announced that they had been "discontinued."
With both sets of negotiations in limbo, U.S. officials believe the Soviet Union now bears the onus of responsibility for rupturing any lingering hopes for early arms control agreements. Americans here said they hoped that public anxieties in turn would generate pressures within Eastern and Western European countries to urge the Soviets to revive the nuclear arms talks.
U.S. officials surmised that the Soviets may now wish to sit back and reshape a new arms control strategy that could be consolidated at the forthcoming Communist Party plenum on Dec. 28.
The Soviets might then choose to launch a new initiative to recoup public support in Europe at the European disarmament conference in Stockholm, set to begin Jan. 17. Secretary of State George Shultz has said he would be prepared to meet Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko on that occasion to discuss improving the East-West dialogue.
Some European countries have promoted the notion of melding the negotiations on medium-range and strategic nuclear weapons, but both the United States and the Soviet Union have discouraged such thinking because the agenda would become too complicated.
The U.S. delegation at the START talks viewed the Soviet walkout today with equanimity. They noted that Moscow had not closed any doors but rather tried to retain many options, including the possibility of accepting the U.S. offer to continue the arms talks in early February.
"The Soviets have calculated that they do not lose anything by going home right now," a U.S. official explained. "They did the least they can do if all they want is to reassess the arms talks."
During the current round, which began Oct. 6, the Soviets were described as "marking time" while waiting to see if the West would proceed with the deployment of the Pershing II and cruise missiles.
U.S. officials said the Soviet delegates "did not even bite" at President Reagan's latest "build down" proposal, which calls for both sides to reduce their nuclear arsenals of ballistic missile warheads by roughly one-third, to 5,000 apiece.
The Soviets have argued that the U.S. proposal seeks to slash the powerful land-based missiles that serve as the heart of their nuclear arsenal and would entail a massive revamping of their military forces.
In turn, the Soviet Union offered to reduce the number of launchers on both sides to 1,800, lumping land-based missiles together with the aircraft and submarine forces--two categories in which the United States maintains superiority.
While U.S. officials said they could not predict when the Soviets might return to Geneva, they hypothesized that Moscow could decide by spring that if President Reagan decides to seek reelection and seems likely to win, it would be better to conclude an arms deal before the November vote.