The Soviet Union, in an apparent effort to show continuity in foreign policy, agreed today to proceed with Tuesday's opening of arms control negotiations despite the death of Konstantin Chernenko.
A spokesman for the U.S. delegation here welcomed the Soviet decision not to postpone the talks and said it reflected Moscow's desire to subordinate any leadership problems to "our common interests in reducing the risks of war."
The Soviet delegation's negotiating instructions were approved at a full meeting of the Politburo last week, and therefore Chernenko's passing is not expected to have any immediate effect on Moscow's strategy here.
U.S. officials said the Soviets delivered the business-as-usual message to the American arms control agency offices this morning barely 30 minutes after Moscow radio announced Chernenko's death.
Vladimir Alexandrov, executive secretary of the Soviet delegation, met with his American counterpart, Warren Zimmerman, for an hour to discuss the agenda and logistics.
In the meeting, Zimmerman expressed condolences and "made clear that their needs [for a postponement] would be accommodated" so that members of the Soviet delegation could return to Moscow if necessary, said Joe Lehman, acting spokesman for the U.S. delegation.
But the Soviet side quickly emphasized its determination to stick to the planned schedule of the Geneva negotiations, evidently relaying the Kremlin's decision to emphasize continuity in a transition of power, Lehman said. The delegation leaders will gather for the first time for a "get-acquainted" session at the Soviet mission here Tuesday and will hold their second meeting Thursday at the U.S. Arms Control Agency offices here.
It is still unclear, however, when and how often the delegations will break into separate encounters involving the three subgroups -- on intercontinental nuclear weapons, medium-range nuclear missiles and space-based systems. U.S. officials said such procedural issues are likely to dominate the initial meetings.
Negotiators are to meet twice weekly, alternating between the Soviet and U.S. missions here.