President Reagan's senior foreign policy advisers have told him that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev remains preoccupied with internal Soviet problems and is not ready to talk about meeting with Reagan, administration officials said yesterday.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz and national security affairs adviser Robert C. McFarlane reported to Reagan yesterday on their six-hour conference Tuesday with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in Vienna, and on Shultz's Middle East visit.
They concluded from the meeting with Gromyko that Gorbachev is "not dealing with any foreign accounts," as a senior White House official put it.
Also yesterday, officials said that a Reagan-Gorbachev meeting would not necessarily come at the same time as the opening of the United Nations General Assembly session in September, or October's celebration of the 40th anniversary of the U.N. founding.
Previously, senior White House officials had raised the possibility that Gorbachev would come to the United Nations and meet with the president afterward.
Reagan said May 10 in Lisbon that it was "probable" the Soviet leader would come to the United Nations, although he said "we have no confirmation yet" from the Soviets.
Reagan said he had "extended an invitation that if he was going to be here, the door was open for a meeting between us."
A senior White House official said in an interview this week, "I don't think it has to be within a U.N. type of thing. He could come over to visit the U.N. and come back again" to see the president.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes reiterated yesterday that Reagan's invitation was for Gorbachev to come to Washington, not to the United Nations.
"Any location other than the one in the invitation originally extended has not been addressed by this administration," Speakes said.
The Soviets "haven't taken us up" on the invitation, he added.
Other officials have said the Soviets did not even raise the subject in the Vienna session with Shultz and McFarlane.
Even before the Vienna meeting, some West European diplomats speculated that the Soviets were sidestepping the summit question because they sensed that Reagan wanted it more than they did, and that Moscow would continue to resist it.
But White House officials said they think Gorbachev is not ready to deal with major foreign policy matters.
"They have not been able to come to a decision to accept the president's invitation. There is a flavor from the Vienna talks of their interest being more domestic oriented for the time being, which is unfortunate for us," another senior official said. "We're ready to engage on foreign policy."
The assessment given Reagan by Shultz and McFarlane was that Gorbachev's focus on internal matters, such as the next five-year plan and his effort to "consolidate his power" in the Soviet leadership, has also led to the current standoff at the nuclear arms reduction talks in Geneva.
The arms negotiations, now in recess after little apparent progress in the first six weeks, are to resume May 30.
"It's not just Vienna, but also what's happened in Geneva that suggests that they really are not ready to take the initiative," the senior official said, adding:
"They have not put progress on arms control and the U.S.-Soviet relationship at the top of their list of priorities."
"Given that their approach to engaging on issues has been sharply different from Washington's , our only logical response is one of patience," the official said.
He said the Soviets are "not ready for significant changes" in offensive nuclear missiles, the area of weapons reduction that the United States has emphasized in Geneva.
The Soviets have pushed instead for restraints on space weapons and Reagan's strategic defense initiative.
This official said, however, that the Soviets wanted to "give a public perception of being engaged" with the United States on foreign policy. He said this explained the six-hour session in Vienna this week, which U.S. officials have said was devoted entirely to restatements of previous positions.