The Soviet news agency Tass accused the United States today of "poisoning the atmosphere" of U.S.-Soviet relations with its reaction to the shooting death of a U.S. Army major by a Soviet sentry.
It was the first mention of the March 24 incident in the Soviet press since U.S. and Soviet military officials met last month to discuss ways of preventing its recurrence.
There has been a public dispute about the results of that meeting, which in turn has rekindled the controversy over the shooting death of Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson Jr. in East Germany.
Tass affirmed today that both sides pledged at the meeting not to use weapons in detaining or expelling members of military liaison missions.
But it also restated the Soviet position that Nicholson had been caught spying and was shot not as a member of a liaison mission, but as "an unknown trespasser."
"On the whole, the meeting, it would seem, promoted settlement of the situation," Tass said.
But, according to Tass, Washington subsequently "started again heightening tension and again put into play the distorted version of what took place."
The April 12 meeting between Soviet and U.S. military commanders on the Nicholson affair was first reported by the State Department. But the Soviet Embassy in Washington issued a statement last week disputing the U.S. version of what had been agreed to.
That statement was circulated by the English-language Tass service but was not printed in Soviet newspapers. Today's account is expected to have wider circulation.
Today's Tass comments were the first Soviet statement on the subject since the United States expelled a Soviet assistant military attache from Washington on Friday in response to what it called "the unacceptable Soviet position" on Nicholson's death.
The Tass report did not refer to the expulsion, to which the Soviet Union so far has not retaliated. But it accused the United States of using the "tragic" incident for "political aims" and of "trying to divert attention from Washington's recent steps."
Some western diplomats linked the timing of the Tass account to the expulsion in Washington.
Washington has taken other steps in response to Nicholson's death, including canceling participation of American government officials at last week's 40th anniversary celebration of the linkup of U.S. and Soviet armies at the Elbe River, and calling off a National War College trip to the Soviet Union.
Tass again indicated today that the Soviet Union will neither apologize nor compensate the Nicholson family for the death. "Seeking to mislead the public . . . and to shirk responsibility, American representatives go as far as saying that the Soviet side should bring apologies, and discourse on the need of some compensation."
While saying the incident was "the cause of regret," Tass said it was being used to stir problems in the U.S.-Soviet relationship.
"For those who are engaged in all that, it is high time to understand that there is no prospect in the policy of kindling mistrust," Tass said.