The White House yesterday rejected linkage of a summit meeting in the United States to progress in the Geneva arms talks, as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev seemed to hint in a major speech Tuesday in Moscow.
Spokesman Larry Speakes said "we can have a productive meeting without progress at Geneva. But at the same time we wish to make progress at Geneva and can do so if the Soviets would like it.
"The opportunity for the two leaders to meet on a regular basis was one of the main goals we sought at Geneva and we achieved," President Reagan's spokesman added, "and we think there's ample cause to meet on a regular basis."
The White House comments were prompted by ambiguities in Gorbachev's statement to the 27th Communist Party congress regarding the timing of this year's summit. The two sides have not been able to set a date despite several diplomatic exchanges. The U.S. preference is for June; the Soviets have held out for later in the year.
"We see no reason," Speakes said, "we should not go ahead and agree on a date for Mr. Gorbachev's visit to the United States this year."
Gorbachev said Tuesday that, "in accordance with an understanding reached in Geneva, there will be another meeting with the U.S. president." But he said it "ought to produce practical results," such as an agreement on ending nuclear weapons tests or eliminating U.S. and Soviet intermediate-range missiles in Europe.
At the prospect of such an agreement, the Soviets would agree to any summit date proposed by the United States, Gorbachev said. However, he added, "there is no sense in holding empty talks."
An administration specialist on the Soviets said yesterday he did not think that Gorbachev was questioning whether a summit should be held at all. Instead, he said, the Soviet leader was trying to promote his country's views on arms issues. The specialist quoted a Moscow official as saying yesterday that Gorbachev was not setting preconditions for a summit but was only seeking "practical steps" on arms issues prior to another meeting.
"This president won't be pressured," the U.S. official added.
One portion of Gorbachev's speech baffled U.S. analysts. The Soviet leader declared that Reagan's recent counterproposal on arms made reductions of strategic nuclear missiles "conditional on our Soviet consent to the Star Wars program." One official said the U.S. position has always been that strategic reductions should remain independent of Star Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative research program, and that this was reflected in Reagan's letter to Moscow.
At the State Department, spokesman Bernard Kalb called on the Soviets to respond to Reagan's new offer to eliminate intermediate-range missiles in Europe and Asia. "We are looking forward to a Soviet response to this practical proposal at the negotiating table," Kalb said. Larry Speakes . . . responds to Soviet leader.