Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko today said future arms control talks between the United States and the Soviet Union should cover both strategic and medium-range nuclear weapons, the two areas in which the Soviet Union broke off talks with the United States almost a year ago.
Chernenko's statement, made during a meeting today with British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock and published by the Soviet news agency Tass, was his first since the announcement last week that Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and Secretary of State George P. Shultz will meet in Geneva in January.
Chernenko said the Soviet Union wants "to start negotiations on the entire complex of interconnected questions of nonmilitarization of outer space, reduction of strategic nuclear arms and medium-range nuclear weapons."
He noted that the Soviet Union "is prepared to search for the most radical solutions" in order to achieve "the complete prohibition and ultimately . . . the liquidation of nuclear arms."
This, he said, was the thrust of a Soviet proposal recently sent to President Reagan.
By explicitly citing strategic and medium-range weapons, Chernenko expanded on a Foreign Ministry statement four days ago that said only that the Soviets were willing to discuss "the entire complex of questions concerning nuclear and space weapons."
And by specifically mentioning Soviet willingness to negotiate on medium-range nuclear weapons now, Chernenko's statement broke with previous Soviet declarations that demanded that American cruise and Pershing II missiles be withdrawn from Western Europe as a condition for new talks.
The Soviets broke off negotiations on medium-range weapons in Geneva last December after the deployment in Western Europe by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of Pershing II and cruise missiles. Strategic arms reduction talks were suspended by the Soviets the same month.
In his comments today, Chernenko made no mention of withdrawal of the missiles or other conditions. However, he noted that the question of Soviet missiles deployed in Eastern Europe as a countermeasure "can be decided only with taking into consideration the further actions of the U.S. side."
A ban on nuclear weapons in outer space has long been a top Soviet priority. But a proposal this summer for negotiations on space weapons collapsed after the Soviets balked at U.S. efforts to broaden the scope of the talks, and after the United States objected to Soviet demands for a moratorium on testing.
Chernenko's call for talks on "the entire complex" of arms control issues closely parallels Reagan's suggestion at the United Nations last September for "umbrella talks" on wide-ranging arms issues.
Kinnock and other opposition Labor Party figures, who met with Chernenko for 1 1/2 hours and more briefly with Gromyko, said later that the Soviet leaders seemed to emphasize a new approach to U.S.-Soviet relations.
"The new thinking seemed to be an effort to make very broad initiatives in order to try to restore relations to where they were in the late 1970s," Kinnock told a group of British journalists.
"What is new is their readiness to talk without conditions," he said. Denis Healey, a foreign secretary under the Labor government, said the Soviets are looking for a "fresh start," according to reporters present.
Chernenko also told the Labor Party leaders that the Soviet Union would scrap its missiles aimed at Britain if a future Labor government carried out the party's pledge to dismantle nuclear weapons there.
A similar offer was extended to Labor Party leaders by the late Soviet president Yuri Andropov in 1983. The Labor Party adopted its policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament last September.
Staff writer Don Oberdorfer reported from Washington:
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Burt, discussing the Shultz-Gromyko talks, said on the NBC program "Today" that "we'd like to get the negotiations actually started in Geneva in January" and "we will be working to that end."
His statement suggested a more ambitious aim for the talks than the search for "a common understanding as to the subjects and objectives" of arms control negotiations, as set forth in Thursday's joint U.S.-Soviet announcement.