Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has tied the timing of his next summit meeting with President Reagan to evidence of progress toward elimination of intermediate-range U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles from Europe, according to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who met Gorbachev in Moscow last week.
During a Washington news conference yesterday, Kennedy quoted Gorbachev as saying that a U.S.-Soviet agreement on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) "would justify the proposed next summit meeting."
Without the prospect of signing such an agreement or a comprehensive nuclear test ban accord, Kennedy said, Gorbachev "would question what the value [is] of having an immediate meeting in June or the very near future" as proposed by the Reagan administration.
Kennedy also announced that Soviet authorities have agreed to resolve some additional human-rights cases by permitting the emigration of 25 persons on a list provided by the senator. Kennedy expressed hope that more will be released in future months.
Kennedy said he had spoken forcefully about the case of imprisoned Soviet dissident Anatoly Scharansky, who is reported likely to be traded to the West next week as part of a broad exchange, but the senator refused to discuss the substance of his talks on this point. Kennedy said he also discussed Soviet scientist Andrei Sakharov, whom Gorbachev has refused to consider for emigration.
Administration officials have indicated in increasingly definite terms that the second Reagan-Gorbachev summit is not likely this year unless it can be held in June or July, as Washington has proposed. This is because Reagan and others do not want Gorbachev's high-profile trip to the United States to come during the August vacation period or this fall during the congressional election campaign and budget battle on Capitol Hill.
Gorbachev's Jan. 15 arms-control proposals, including new positions on elimination of INF missiles and an extended nuclear test ban moratorium, have placed the Reagan administration under pressure to respond with counteroffers. By tying the date for the next summit meeting to tangible progress, Gorbachev appears to be intensifying pressure on the administration to be forthcoming.
Kennedy confirmed Soviet and U.S. news reports that Gorbachev told him a U.S.-Soviet agreement on INF missiles is possible "even if there is no progress" toward reducing strategic nuclear weapons or banning work on the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative research on a missile defense.
This clearcut separation of the Euromissile negotiations from the others came as something of a surprise to U.S. officials, who feared that Soviet INF offers were intended to create pressure for concessions in the space-weapons area. As a result of the "delinking," Kennedy said, "I came away with a real sense of hope that a breakthrough can be achieved" in the INF area.
In White House deliberations last week, Reagan gave tentative approval to a positive U.S. response to Gorbachev's Jan. 15 proposals. The U.S. counterproposals are now being discussed with European and Asian allies and the People's Republic of China by two traveling emissaries, Paul H. Nitze and Edward L. Rowny.
The planned U.S. counteroffers in the INF area, according to administration sources, would accept the Soviet proposal to eliminate all INF missiles from Europe but insist on a 50 percent reduction of Soviet INF missiles in Asia. This would be less of an Asian cutback than required under earlier U.S. proposals but might be more than the Soviets are willing to accept.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduarde Shevardnadze recently told Japanese officials, according to U.S. sources, that Moscow is willing to make some reductions in its SS20 missiles in Asia if the cuts are tied to reductions of U.S. weapons, including aircraft, in the Pacific.
Reagan is not prepared to meet two Soviet conditions on its INF offer, according to administration officials. These are a required freeze on the nuclear forces of Britain and France, and a pledge by the United States not to transfer strategic or medium-range weapons to other nations. On the latter point, the administration is going ahead with its plan to supply Trident nuclear submarines to Britain.
An aide to Kennedy said Gorbachev made it clear that he will give no reply to the U.S. proposal of a June or July summit until after he has received Reagan's response to his latest arms offers. That response is likely to be sent to Moscow next week, Washington officials said.
One possibility mentioned by Gorbachev to Kennedy, an aide to the senator said, was a "conditional" agreement on a summmit date, which could only be held if certain guideposts of progress were reached in advance on arms-control issues.