The United States and the Soviet Union remain "quite a considerable distance apart" on nuclear arms control despite new U.S. proposals but are ready to try for an early accord on intermediate-range weapons in Europe, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said today.
At the same time, Shultz revealed details of a dramatic episode that has unfolded at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, where a 19-year-old Soviet soldier has taken refuge. Soviet and Afghan troops have "more or less" surrounded the embassy and cut off electricity. The United States has lodged strong protests with the Soviet and Afghan governments, the secretary said.
Shultz, on the first leg of a journey to Moscow to prepare the forthcoming U.S.-Soviet summit conference, said that not enough time remains for a "full-scale" detailed agreement on arms control before President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet on Nov. 19 and 20.
Despite the new U.S. arms offer that was submitted this week and the possibility of a major Soviet response, Shultz said, the best Reagan and Gorbachev could do at the summit would be to give "a political impulse" to their arms negotiators that could produce detailed agreements later.
As Shultz described the situation to reporters aboard his plane, the brightest ray of hope seemed to be for a separate and early accord on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe, which are being discussed in one of three negotiating groups in the Geneva nuclear and space arms talks.
The Soviet Union has suggested that it would consider an INF agreement "separately from the total, overall negotiation" on other issues in Geneva, according to Shultz. The United States "is quite prepared for that," he said.
Even in this limited area, however, Shultz said, "there is a lot of difference" between the positions of the two sides after the latest Soviet and U.S. proposals.
Specifically, Shultz said there is no change in the longstanding U.S. position that British and French nuclear forces should be excluded from any U.S.-Soviet deal on missiles in Europe. This long has been a major stumbling block to an INF accord.
The young Soviet soldier who has taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has added a new complication to the already complex relationship between Moscow and Washington as the summit meeting approaches.
Shultz said the United States has lodged protests to the Soviet Union about actions taken against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul since the soldier darted through a gate into the U.S. compound Thursday. The actions being protested, Shultz said, include ringing the embassy with troops, training searchlights on the embassy from the periphery and cutting off electricity to the embassy compound.
A State Department official accompanying Shultz said the United States has lodged protests with the Afghan government and the Soviets in Kabul, Washington and Moscow.
The official quoted the Soviet soldier, who was on guard duty at Radio Afghanistan across the road from the embassy, as saying after he bolted into the U.S. compound: "I don't like this war. I want to go home."
What the United States can do about the Soviet private now is far from clear. Up to now, the soldier has refused to be interviewed by Soviet officials. It is against U.S. policy to grant political asylum from U.S. embassies, the State Department official said, and sneaking the soldier out of the embassy is "not an option" because the compound is ringed by Afghan troops.
The case of the Soviet soldier in Kabul became an unexpected item on the Washington-Moscow agenda just as the United States ended another diplomatic face-off over a Soviet merchant sailor who jumped ship near New Orleans. Shultz continued to express approval of the handling of the seaman's case by the State Department today, saying that his opinion is that "this was done very well."
With the U.S.-Soviet summit less than three weeks away, the Shultz mission to Moscow, which includes White House national security affairs adviser Robert C. McFarlane, is seen by both U.S. and Soviet officials as the main chance to prepare for agreements that might be reached by the two leaders in their forthcoming meeting.
The secretary of state spoke with his accustomed caution about the prospects of his mission, which is to include discussions with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze on Monday and a meeting with Soviet leader Gorbachev Tuesday morning.
The U.S. side has "no problem in principle" with drafting a communique or other statement to be issued by Shultz and Gorbachev at the conclusion of their two days of talks, Shultz said. The practical question to be decided, which he will address with the Soviet leaders on this trip, is "how much content can we agree on" Shultz said.
Among the topics to be addressed, Shultz said, is the question of whether additional summit meetings would be useful. He said an agreement has been reached with Moscow that the two leaders will spend part of their time at the summit discussing "an agenda for the future" and would consider future summit meetings.
As he has in the past, Shultz emphasized the link between regional conflicts involving the United States and Soviet Union and the relationship of the two nations in other areas, including arms control.
Shultz made clear, though, that he sees such linkage as a political fact of life rather than a requirement imposed on negotiations unrelated to regional conflicts.
"I believe that if there is something that is worked out in some area that is in our interest, we should be prepared to go ahead with that" despite linkage to other issues, Shultz said.
Regarding U.S. policy in one such regional dispute, in Angola, Shultz referred to a State Department statement issued late yesterday that there is a widespread feeling among Americans, which the administration supports, of sympathy with rebels fighting the Soviet-backed Angolan government.
What has changed in the Angolan situation, Shultz said, is repeal of the Clark amendment prohibiting U.S. aid to Angolan rebel groups. The question of aid to the rebels still is being discussed within the administration, Shultz said.