In a year-end speech at a Kremlin reception, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said today that the Soviet Union was committed to "essential progress" next year on regional issues, and he specifically mentioned Afghanistan.
"We are prepared to search for just solutions jointly with other countries, and participate, where necessary, in respective guarantees," he said.
Gorbachev's mention of Afghanistan -- listed along with other international trouble spots such as the Middle East, Central America, southern Africa and the Persian Gulf -- was unusually direct for a Soviet leader.
Today marks the sixth anniversary of Soviet armed intervention in Afghanistan, and while the Soviet Union has signaled no change in its overall policy in the Afghan conflict, it has been increasingly candid about its political and military involvement.
New hints of possible Soviet willingness to establish a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan were reported in Washington Friday also to have been a key feature of last week's session of United Nations-sponsored talks on a political settlement in that war-torn country.
Diplomatic sources familiar with the Dec. 16-19 round of U.N.-sponsored talks said representatives of the Soviet-backed Afghan government expressed greater willingness than before to get down to specifics about the timetable for a Soviet withdrawal, although in the end they refused to put their ideas on the bargaining table. Details on Page A10.
Tonight, in a speech to foreign ambassadors that was broadcast in full on the nightly news, Gorbachev warned against viewing local conflicts "through the spectacles of East-West political or ideological confrontation."
"It is shortsighted and dangerous to build policy on erroneous concepts," he said. "Conflicts grow out of the local social, economic and political soil."
On the overall international situation, Gorbachev noted that "an exchange of signals between East and West of late" had produced a "gleam of hope for headway to mutually acceptable solutions."
On arms control issues, the Soviet leader said "certain points of contiguity" had emerged since his November summit with President Reagan in Geneva. "How things will work out there depends first of all on how the accord reached at the summit meeting in Geneva will flesh out in practice," he added.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman announced, meanwhile, that Reagan and Gorbachev will exchange televised New Year's greetings on Jan. 1. It would be the first such exchange of broadcasts between Soviet and U.S. leaders.
The year-end meeting with foreign ambassadors was a new event and one Gorbachev used to press in brief and relatively conciliatory terms recent Soviet foreign policy positions.
The Soviet leader again urged the United States to join a Soviet moratorium on nuclear testing as a first step toward arms reductions.
"Let us act so that the year of 1986 should go down into history as that of a decline in nuclear explosions," he said.
He also reiterated the Soviet Union's willingness to allow on-site inspections as a means of verifying a test ban.
"Under the present-day international conditions, given the deficit of mutual trust, verification measures are simply indispensable," he said. "Let it be control with the use of national technical means, or international control, the main thing that it be control over the observance of concrete agreements."
The Soviet moratorium, begun on the Aug. 6 anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, is to end Jan. 1 unless the United States joins. According to several Soviet sources, Washington's firm and oft-repeated refusal means the Soviets are likely to resume testing in 1986.
Washington's swift and negative response to what the Soviets see as their concession on on-site inspection met with disappointment here, although it was not unexpected. According to one Soviet source, Gorbachev had told Reagan in Geneva that certain kinds of on-site inspection would be acceptable.
Today, Gorbachev put the moratorium in the context of arms control talks resuming next month in Geneva.
"The soil of the resuming talks should be sown already today to good seeds, since only they can ensure good young growth in spring and a crop in autumn," he said.