U.S. officials here and in Washington say they doubt that an American counteroffer to the new Soviet proposals on arms reduction will be ready before the current round of negotiations here ends in the first week of November.
These officials say one reason is that there are still many gaps in the information provided by the Soviets. Some of these officials suggest, however, that differences in approaches to reductions in missile and bomber forces -- as contained in both countries' proposals now on the negotiating table here -- could be sufficiently narrowed that when President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet here Nov. 19-20, they could reach agreement on future directions for the talks to take.
On strategic arms, for example, both superpowers have proposed deep reductions in these longer-range weapons that can strike each other's homeland, along with sub-limits to be applied to the remaining missile forces so that they could not threaten each other with a surprise, first-strike attack. The two sides disagree, however, on the weapons to be included in the strategic category, the size of the reduction and the method of counting the future sub-limits.
According to a U.S. government analysis, the United States would be worse off under the Soviet proposals in terms of the threat to U.S. land-based missiles from Soviet attack.
These issues of how to structure a future agreement might be worked out before or at the summit, some U.S. officials indicate, leaving the actual negotiation on specific weapons and numbers for future rounds of the on-going talks.
The two leaders disagree sharply on the future of space-based defensive and antisatellite weapons development. Reagan has stressed pursuit of his Strategic Defense Initiative, at least until it can be determined if a system is feasible.
Gorbachev says he wants research, development and deployment of what he terms "space strike weapons" banned. But he adds that in practice, such a prohibition could only come after a device leaves the laboratory and is in the process of field testing.
Some U.S. officials say a compromise could be worked out to permit what is called "research testing," as opposed to testing of actual weapons under development, under reaffirmed provisions of the existing U.S.-Soviet 1972 antiballistic missile treaty. The compromise would bar tests as part of space weapons development, which are still considered to be more than five years off, unless the treaty was revised to permit them.
The two nations have also put forward different approches to the problem of reducing nuclear-armed, intermediate-range forces, such as missiles and bombers based in Europe. The United States has proposed a treaty to eliminate both sides' missiles -- the U.S. Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles, and the Soviet SS20 missiles.
While the two sides are far apart on this issue, there have been many suggestions for compromise. However, one U.S. official suggested here today that the planned refurbishing and expansion by France and Britain of their independent nuclear deterrent forces -- which have been excluded from U.S.-Soviet talks -- may require some changes in the negotiations on these weapons.
Officials with experience dealing with the Soviets see the new Kremlin proposals as representing a break with approaches under former foreign minister Andrei Gromyko. The package presented last week, several officials noted, was the first comprehensive initiative in arms control to come out of Moscow instead of Washington.
These are "new circumstances, new approaches and new drafters," a U.S. official said.
"Only when the propaganda harvest is in," said an official, "will we see what Gorbachev is up to."
Another U.S. specialist on Soviet affairs described the situation in Moscow as "fluid." He pointed out that there appeared to be a new arms-control team around Gorbachev in Paris. Ambassador Yuli Kvitsinsky, number two in the Soviet delegation to talks here, is an experienced negotiator but appears now to have been given an elevated position. He was much in evidence at Gorbachev's side in Paris and made himself freely available to western newsmen.
Kvitsinsky has long had a reputation as one of Moscow's "problem solvers," known in the United States as the recipient of U.S. Ambassador Paul Nitze's famous 1982 "walk in the woods" proposal.
U.S. officials noted that the failure of Gorbachev to take along Georgi Kornienko, a deputy foreign minister and Gromyko's arms-control expert, may be another sign of the turn away from old approaches.