Secretary of State George P. Shultz said today that his three-hour meeting here with the new Soviet foreign minister constituted a "good first step" in preparing for the November summit between their countries' two leaders but warned that "very deep differences" remain on many issues.
Speaking to reporters at the U.S. Embassy residence after the meeting, the secretary said he and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had agreed to describe their talks as "interesting, useful, frank, businesslike and productive."
Later, a Soviet spokesman dropped the two words "businesslike and productive" from the list, but the Soviet version of the encounter seemed more hopeful than the American one.
While U.S. spokesmen steered reporters away from any expectation of other than minor agreements being signed at the November summit, the Soviet ambassador to Washington, Anatoliy Dobrynin, told a press conference that his government has hopes for achieving "serious results" and what he called "a maximum program."
Dobrynin did not define what he meant, but western diplomats said they thought the Soviets would be pushing for some kind of agreement on more than just cultural exchanges, civil aviation, new consulates and other lesser bilateral issues.
By contrast, the American side played down the need for reaching any substantive agreements at the November summit. "Formal agreements are not the important thing," said one senior administration official. "The important thing is whether we understand each other and whether we have some common understanding of where we are headed in the future."
Overall, neither side reported any real progress on problems besetting their relations, but both noted that today's meeting had been, as Shultz put it, "a worthwhile and important three hours."
Neither side reported any new proposals being put forth but both said they had agreed on three broad areas for the agenda at the November meeting: arms control, points of regional conflict and bilateral issues. They indicated strong disagreement over the U.S. desire to make human rights an additional agenda item.
Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko referred to the touchy human rights issue when he said Shevardnadze had "pointed out the inadmissibility of interference in the affairs of other states."
A U.S. official said the Soviet foreign minister had objected to Shultz's attack on Soviet human rights violations but that the secretary had simply restated his position in response.
It was the first occasion for Shultz to take the measure of the man that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has chosen to replace Andrei Gromyko, who guided Soviet foreign policy for more than two decades.
The two men met at the colonial-style, brick residence of the U.S. ambassador that overlooks Helsinki harbor. At the start and end of the talks, they posed awkwardly for pictures and strained to make small talk.
Tonight, at a reception given by the Finnish government, the two men, accompanied by their wives, strolled together across the lawn of a harborside hotel, exchanging pleasantries under the glare of camera lights.
Shultz said that based on his first encounter with the 57-year-old Shevardnadze, "we should have an easy ability to talk to each other in a direct and useful way."
U.S. officials present at the meeting described the Soviet official as a "competent man" and a "strong interlocutor" who alone had spoken for the entire Soviet delegation throughout the three-hour meeting. For the first time in such meetings, said a U.S. spokesman, the Soviets agreed to use simultaneous translation -- which effectively doubled the time available for discussion.
Dobrynin said it was his impression that the two men needed a "certain period of adjustment" to each other. But he said he thought they had managed to establish "the necessary personal contact to continue substantive meetings."
The two foreign ministers spent all of their meeting reviewing the established positions of their respective governments on outstanding issues, and according to U.S. delegation spokesmen there was no change in the substance of the Soviet stance on any of them.
Various U.S. officials noted with relief a "stylistic difference" in Shevardnadze's presentation of Soviet views, however. According to one, the meeting was remarkably free of "the poison barbs" and tough rhetoric that had characterized Gromyko's style of diplomacy.
Observers noted with some interest the prominent place Dobrynin was given both at the meeting and afterward at the press conference, where he emerged as the principal spokesman.
Recent reports suggested that the veteran Soviet envoy to Washington would soon be brought back to Moscow, since his old mentor, Gromyko, is now in the honorific presidency.
Dobrynin, asked how he felt the forthcoming summit differed from past ones, said the fabric of good U.S.-Soviet relations, "created during the previous period, happened to be destroyed. To destroy is easier than to create, and we hope the summit meeting marks the restoration of the fabric of the earlier period."