Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze called on the United States today to adopt positions that will make possible "an agreement in principle" on nuclear and space arms at next month's U.S.-Soviet summit meeting.
Shevardnadze made the statement in an address to the 40th anniversary session of the U.N. General Assembly several hours before meeting with President Reagan to discuss preparations for the Geneva meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Nov. 19 and 20.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Shevardnadze did not spell out in the meeting with Reagan what the Kremlin has in mind as "an agreement in principle." Shultz said he would explore the matter, along with other subjects, in a longer meeting he plans to hold with Shervardnadze in New York Friday.
The Shevardnadze statement appeared at first glance to be a formal public expression of private indications by Gorbachev during his early October visit to Paris that he would be satisfied with a very broad understanding with Reagan on arms issues, leaving the details of arms negotiations to be settled later. White House National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, in an NBC television interview this morning, sounded what seemed to be a similar note. McFarlane said, "It is conceivable that there can be some meeting of minds at the summit on principles and objectives" of arms control.
"We hope that the Soviet Union is ready to do that," McFarlane added, saying that "the complexities" of any arms accord would have to be negotiated after the summit meeting is over.
Gorbachev, in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, which was read by Shevardnadze to the U.N. General Assembly, described the supreme task of nations today as "ending the arms race on earth and preventing it in space."
These twin objectives have consistently been emphasized by Moscow as the central requirements for progress in the Geneva arms negotiations, whose formal charter worked out by Shultz and then foreign minister Andrei A. Gromyko in January used the same double-barreled concept of limiting nuclear, offensive arms and space-based weapons.
Shevardnadze's U.N. address repeated Soviet opposition to Reagan's "Star Wars" antimissile plan, but there was less emphasis on this point than in most Soviet declarations or in Shevardnadze's speech to the General Assembly just one month ago.
U.S. and European officials expressed interest in two other facets of Shevardnadze's address dealing with arms control issues.
The Soviet foreign minister said clearly and publicly for the first time that Moscow would agree to a freeze on the number of its intermediate-range missiles deployed in the Asian part of the U.S.S.R., "provided there is no substantial change in the strategic situation there." This part of the Soviet arms proposal, according to U.S. officials, was presented in the Geneva negotiations last week.
Shevardnadze also put an unusual degree of emphasis on Soviet willingness to focus on the verification aspects of any arms agreement.
He repeated a Soviet statement of recent weeks that Moscow would go beyond "national technical means" of verification, meaning spy satellites, when these are "inadequate" and when "mutually agreed procedures" can be worked out.
Shevardnadze gave no details and U.S. sources said none have been presented on this subject in the Geneva negotiations.
Despite the unusually blunt nature of some of Reagan's U.N. remarks, Shevardnadze made no reference in his address to them or to Reagan's proposal for negotiated solutions to five regional conflicts.
The Soviets had been provided with advance word of the Reagan proposal in a letter from Reagan to Gorbachev.
As a diplomatic courtesy of the sort that was common in the age of detente but has been rare recently, Shevardnadze was given an advance copy of Reagan's U.N. address and he, in turn, made an advance text of his address available to U.S. officials.
Shevardnadze's half-hour meeting with Reagan late today was described by Shultz as "essentially base-touching" in advance of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit.
The Soviet foreign minister went out of his way to quarrel with the new U.S. legal interpretation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty that has come to light since his last visit here. On this point Shevardnadze said it is "inadmissible to interpret [treaties] in a unilateral and arbitrary manner.
"One cannot, for example, interpret the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems as permitting the development of a large-scale ABM system, and a space-based one at that."
Shevardnadze then quoted Article 5 of the ABM treaty, which bans development, testing and deployment of "sea-based, air-based, space-based or mobile land-based" ABM systems. "What could be unclear about this? And what is there to interpret?" he asked.