The Reagan administration is not yet ready to respond to the wide-ranging arms-control proposals made last month by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and two senior U.S. officials are being dispatched to Europe and Asia today to consult with U.S. allies on the subject, a senior White House official said yesterday.
Briefing reporters before President Reagan's State of the Union address, the official said that Ambassador Paul H. Nitze, a special adviser on arms-control policy, is being sent to Europe, and retired Gen. Edward L. Rowney, a former U.S. strategic arms negotiator, is being sent to Asia.
Both are carrying a U.S. analysis of the latest Gorbachev proposal, the official said.
"After those emissaries get back, then we'll look and see where we are and we'll respond to General Secretary Gorbachev in good time," the official said.
Previously, officials have said the administration was planning to send a letter from Reagan to Gorbachev emphasizing reductions in medium-range missiles in Europe, which is viewed by some U.S. analysts as the most promising area for agreement.
The senior official said there is a "consensus" in the administration on how to respond. However, others have said that long-standing differences over arms-control policy have not been resolved since Gorbachev's Jan. 14 proposal.
In that proposal, which surprised U.S. officials, Gorbachev called for a 15-year timetable for banning nuclear weapons worldwide and proposed extending the Soviet nuclear testing moratorium by three months. The United States again rejected the moratorium, but officials said they were intrigued by other aspects of Gorbachev's statement.
Yesterday, the senior White House official said that despite the Gorbachev statement, "we still don't have a response from the Soviets" to Reagan's arms-control proposal of Nov. 1. While one phase of Gorbachev's latest statement did "in a sense" respond to Reagan on limiting medium-range missiles in Europe, he said Gorbachev did not respond to Reagan proposals on strategic weapons.
He also said the Soviets remain "unwilling to talk seriously" about Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, a proposed missile defense system in the research phase that the Soviets have attempted to block.
The White House official said a date has not been set for Gorbachev's visit to the United States this year, but said it will be "some time this summer." Officials have said the administration is pushing for June or July, but the Soviets have indicated that they would like to wait until September.