Reagan administration officials said yesterday that the Soviet Union's strong public reaction to the U.S. raid on Libya -- foreshadowed in several confidential discussions over the past 2 1/2 weeks -- does not preclude a possible superpower summit late this year.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz said the Soviet cancellation of his May 14-16 meetings here with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, which were scheduled amid considerable optimism only last week, has "obviously" diminished the chances for a U.S.-Soviet summit meeting this summer. Another official said the summer summit desired by President Reagan is now highly unlikely, though there remains "a pretty good chance" for a Reagan meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev before the end of the year.
U.S. officials interpreted Moscow's announcement that the planned Shultz-Shevardnadze meeting next month has become "impossible" as a political gesture. They expect it to be followed by a resupply of Soviet warplanes and other materiel that Libya lost in the U.S. raid. However, officials said they expect no direct U.S.-Soviet military confrontation over Libya.
Recounting several weeks of intense diplomatic activity that preceded Monday's raid, a State Department official said the early reactions of Soviet, European and Arab nations conformed to U.S. expectations.
Another senior administration official said the executive branch is "absolutely disappointed" at the allied reaction and feels "a combination of anger and disgust" that more support was not received. "We're ahead of where we we were" in the past in terms of allied recognition that Libya poses a terrorist problem, "but it's a shame it's such a slow process," the official said.
Refusals by France and Spain to allow overflights of their territory by U.S. warplanes were operational actions that were considered more important than any rhetorical response.
An official said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Vernon A. Walters told leaders in London, Paris, Madrid, Bonn and Rome in confidential discussions Saturday through Monday that the United States was planning to act militarily against Libya, but that Walters did not specify the timing or targets.
No special U.S. diplomatic effort to advance or explain its policy is planned at present, according to officials. Later this week in Paris, Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead will hold discussions with allies "in the corridors" of the annual ministerial meeting of the 24-nation Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. Whitehead will also attend a brief session on the Libyan question at North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Brussels Friday.
U.S. officials discussed Libyan terrorism at meetings with Soviet diplomats here and in East Berlin March 27, according to U.S. sources. The contacts were prompted by a March 25 Libyan message, evidently intercepted by U.S. intelligence, that called for terrorist attacks against Americans in East Berlin and other cities.
"We told them on March 27 we had solid evidence that the Libyan People's Bureau in East Berlin was going to launch an attack against Americans," according to a U.S. official. Both the Soviet Union and East Germany were asked to close the People's Bureau, or embassy, or at least crack down to prevent terrorist attacks, the official said.
According to this account, a Soviet diplomat was summoned to the State Department again April 5, in the immediate aftermath of the West Berlin discotheque bombing early that day, and told of strong U.S. disappointment that no action had been taken to prevent that incident by cracking down on the East Berlin Libyan People's Bureau.
Shultz took up Libyan terrorism last week in his discussions here with departing Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin, according to the U.S.account. Shultz was quoted as having said that the United States "could not continue to put up with Libyan terrorism" and that "we are going to have to do something."
Dobrynin is said to have replied that "there would be consequences" if any U.S. attack were to be made against Libya and that "this could not but affect U.S.-Soviet relations." Dobrynin's remark to Shultz was echoed in yesterday's Soviet statement saying that "the Soviet leadership has warned that such actions as the attack on Libya cannot but affect relations" between the two superpowers.
Acting Soviet Ambassador Oleg Sokolov, who was called to the State Department Monday evening as U.S. warplanes were bombing Libya, immediately condemned the action, according to U.S. officials. He also told Deputy Secretary Whitehead the Soviet Union opposes terrorism, according to the U.S. account.
U.S. Ambassador Arthur Hartman received no hint from Soviet Foreign Ministry officials yesterday whether or when the summit-preparatory meeting of Shultz and Shevardnadze would be rescheduled, Washington officials said. They noted, though, that the Soviet government statement said the Shultz-Shevardnadze meeting had become impossible "at this stage."
The Soviets are "hedging" their future plans with this cautious language, which leaves open the possibility of rescheduling the meeting, said a State Department official.
Another administration official, minimizing the effect of the Soviet announcement, said, "The Libyans are their clients. It's probably the least they could do."