Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev indicated today that the only conditions on his proposed elimination of U.S. and Soviet European-based intermediate-range missiles are a freeze on British and French nuclear arsenals and an agreement that they not be moved to any other country, according to the Soviet news agency Tass.
Gorbachev made the remarks in a meeting today with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is on a three-day visit to the Soviet Union.
Western diplomats here said Gorbachev's language created an impression that he is willing to back down from his insistence that any Soviet-backed nuclear disarmament agreement be conditioned on the Reagan administration's scrapping of its space-based antimissile defense program, the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Other Soviet officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Kornienko, have said publicly that Gorbachev's disarmament proposal is conditioned on a ban on the antimissile defense program, popularly known as "Star Wars."
The Soviet leader told Kennedy that his next summit meeting with President Reagan, due to take place later this year, "would have no sense" unless it could "yield practical results, produce serious shifts in the directions that are of greatest importance for the cause of peace," Tass said.
In an earlier appearance before leading members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Kennedy lauded internally exiled Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov.
In a speech at the academy, Kennedy praised the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize last year to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, then added:
"I also pay tribute here to another eminent Nobel laureate, the first Soviet citizen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, a member of your academy, Dr. Andrei Sakharov."
"The indispensable value of science is its ability to speak truth to power," Kennedy added.
Anatoly P. Alexandrov, president of the academy, noted after Kennedy's speech that Sakharov was a major participant in early Soviet nuclear weapons programs. Neither he nor the senator referred to Sakharov's exile.
Sakharov, who received the peace prize in 1975, was banished to Gorki, a closed city 250 miles east of here, in 1980 after he had lobbied for human rights and criticized the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Sakharov's wife, Yelena Bonner, recently was permitted to leave the Soviet Union for medical treatment and is now convalescing at the home of relatives in Newton, Mass., Kennedy's home state.
During the meeting with Kennedy, Gorbachev promoted his major proposal, made Jan. 15, for worldwide nuclear disarmament by the year 2000, according to Tass.
The Gorbachev proposal calls for the United States and Soviet Union to eliminate all missiles that can reach one another's territory, including all U.S. Pershing II and cruise missiles and Soviet SS20s based in Europe.
Tass and the television evening news program Vremya (Time) reported the Gorbachev-Kennedy meeting today, as well as a meeting the U.S. senator held yesterday with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
But Kennedy declined to respond to queries from American journalists about both meetings.
Kennedy's visit comes in the midst of intense East-West discussions about an exchange of prisoners, rumors that Moscow soon will loosen its tight emigration restrictions and reports that long-pending cases of divided families will be resolved.
When he last visited the Soviet Union, in 1978, Kennedy negotiated the emigration of several Soviet citizens who had been denied permission to leave. He had visited Moscow once before, in 1974.
Kennedy indicated in his speech at the Academy of Sciences that the Geneva summit meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev last November has given new impetus to U.S.-Soviet relations.
"It is possible now to glimpse new rays of hope," he said.