At least one Soviet diplomat will be expelled from the United States to emphasize continued U.S. displeasure with the Soviet Union's response to the shooting death of a U.S. Army intelligence officer in East Germany, a senior administration official said yesterday.
The official said that the expulsion will take place within a few days and that it may be accompanied by "other related measures."
Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson Jr. was shot to death by a Soviet sentry in East Germany March 24. President Reagan said the shooting was an act of "murder," but the Soviets, while expressing regrets, said their sentry had acted lawfully.
Subsequently, U.S. and Soviet military officers discussed the incident at a high-level meeting in Potsdam. According to a U.S. account of this meeting, the Soviets promised not to permit use of force against U.S. military personnel in East Germany.
Six days later, the Soviets repudiated this account in an embassy statement that said the Soviets had not renounced the right to take "legitimate steps" against intruders on intelligence missions.
This prompted an angry response from Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, who said the Soviets were "just lying." In a formal statement, White House spokesman Larry Speakes termed the shooting "an outrage" and said the Soviet account was "a distortion of the facts unacceptable to us."
The administration has been trying to find ways to express displeasure without forcing a major confrontation, officials said.
Late Wednesday, ABC News reported the prospective expulsion of one or more Soviet diplomats and said that the administration would have preferred to avoid this move but that the hard Soviet line was "forcing its hand."