American diplomats and journalists scoured the evening news on Soviet television last night, looking for coverage of President Reagan's interview with Soviet journalists, conducted last Thursday.
They saw nothing.
Sunday newspapers did not carry the interview, either, despite earlier assurances by Soviet officials that a report of it would be published in the Sunday morning edition of the government newspaper Izvestia, distributed nationally.
U.S. officials here said today that they expect the interview to appear in Monday's Izvestia. "But we are not completely sure it will be there either," one U.S. Embassy official said.
The four-day delay in publication of the interview bears out a strong distinction between the western press, where newspapers and individual journalists hotly compete to break interviews with world leaders, and the Soviet press, where editors -- usually party officials -- carefully control the flow and placement of news stories.
Extensive Soviet press coverage of direct remarks by Reagan is rare and seems highly selective, particularly in Izvestia, which with the Communist Party newspaper Pravda is one of the two most widely read newspapers in the Soviet Union.
For the official government organ, whose chief editor, Petr Alekseyev, is a member of the powerful Communist Party Central Committee, determining how to project the words of the U.S. leader to the Soviet people is likely a major policy decision.
Following publication of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's interview in Time magazine last August, Reagan administration officials asked if the U.S. president could present his views to the Soviet people through the Soviet media. The Soviets agreed, and Reagan gave four Moscow-based journalists from Izvestia, Pravda and the Tass and Novosti news agencies written and oral answers to their questions at the White House Thursday.
When the interview will appear, whether it will be edited and which Soviet newspapers will publish it remain a matter of speculation by western diplomats and journalists in the Soviet capital. Reagan granted the interview under the condition that it appear in the Soviet media before distribution elsewhere, according to U.S. officials in Washington.
Izvestia editors declined to comment on when or in what form they will publish the interview.
[A senior editor of Pravda told The Associated Press that it was up to Izvestia, as the government's official newspaper, to publish the first report on the interview. "As far as I know, Pravda will not publish it tomorrow (Monday). I think it will be published first in Izvestia," the editor said.]
Western analysts in Washington speculated that Soviet officials may be timing the publication of the interview to coincide with the arrival of Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
Shultz and accompanying U.S. officials, including national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane and White House arms control adviser Paul Nitze are scheduled to arrive Monday morning for a two-day working visit to prepare for the summit between Reagan and Gorbachev, just over two weeks away.
The Soviet media's experience with interviewing American presidents is limited to one: Soviet journalist Alexei Adzhubei's interview with John F. Kennedy in 1961. Adzhubei, son-in-law of then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, was editor of Izvestia. The newspaper carried an 8,000-word transcript of the interview.