Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev today accused the United States of undermining East-West dialogue with its attack on Libya and continued nuclear testing, but he said Soviet proposals for arms agreements "are still valid" and offered what he called "a new initiative" for the reduction of military forces in Europe.
In a speech to the East German communist party congress, Gorbachev said the fight against terrorism "does not give the American administration any right at all to behave as an international judge, to punish other countries arbitrarily and to replace the principle of international cooperation with the laws of the jungle."
However, the Soviet leader appeared to restrain his criticism of the U.S. attack on Libya and appealed to West Europeans not to believe "inventions about the aggressiveness of the Soviet Union.
"We offer the West not the clenched fist but an open hand," he said.
In a clear bid to influence European public opinion, Gorbachev described "a serious offer of negotiations" for a "substantial reduction" of troops and aircraft in Europe that he said could be linked to cuts in tactical nuclear missiles.
He said the Soviet offer covers military forces "from the Atlantic Ocean to the Urals" and could be verified by on-site inspection "if necessary."
Diplomats here said the vaguely worded proposal did not appear substantially different from previous Soviet initiatives at the long-stalled East-West talks on conventional military force reductions in Vienna.
However, they said the tone of Gorbachev's speech suggested an intention to limit tension between Moscow and Washington over the U.S.-Libya conflict and open the way to a resumption of moves on arms control issues.
In addressing the American raid, Gorbachev described "a general line by Washington" of "militaristic and aggressive content" that he said was "undermining the Geneva agreements" reached with President Reagan at their summit meeting last November.
The Soviet leader also appeared to adopt the strategy of "linkage," frequently used by American administrations, in which progress in one area of relations is linked to behavior in others.
"When one sees these things in an international context, then the crime against Libya and also the persistence in nuclear tests and the threats against Nicaragua cannot be seen in isolation," he said. "The American administration must be aware that Soviet-American relations cannot be developed independently of how the U.S. behaves in the international arena."
Gorbachev also criticized European leaders for failing to support the earlier Soviet proposal for the elimination of intermediate-range nuclear missiles. He singled out West Germany as the most energetic supporter of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and said, "There is no discernible logic in the policy of West Germany."
At the same time, Gorbachev appeared to leave open the possibility of a ground-breaking visit by East German leader Erich Honecker to West Germany, a plan that was blocked by Moscow in 1984 at a time of poor Soviet-U.S. relations.
Despite the criticism of Bonn's participation in SDI and what he said was its "refusal to give up revanchist dreams" of recapturing East German territories, he said the Soviet Union "is prepared to build up relations" with West Germany.
He added that Moscow "fully supports" East Germany's "legitimate claim" to bring relations with West Germany "fully into line with international law," an apparent reference to Honecker's longstanding call for both diplomatic recognition and its formal acceptance of the division of Germany.
Diplomats here said that Honecker's proposed trip and his broader agenda of seeking closer ties with West Germany and other western countries was likely to be a focus of bilateral talks with Gorbachev in the coming days. While echoing Soviet appraisals of increased East-West tension in a speech to the Congress yesterday, Honecker underlined his intention to press ahead with western contacts aimed at "a return to detente."
Gorbachev's review of East-West issues was mixed with a strong call on Eastern European Communist governments to expand economic cooperation with the Soviet Union "by a whole order of magnitude" to meet the challenge of scientific and technological development.
"The Socialist world is living in a momentous period, one that can be rightly called a time of change," he said, adding that "the future of the Soviet Union cannot be imagined without close cooperation" with Eastern European states. He said "new mechanisms" must be adopted for economic relations that "eliminate the barriers of bureaucracy, red tape and outmoded thinking."
The Soviet leader's stress on change was particularly significant in light of the clear reluctance of the Honecker leadership and other East European states to imitate Gorbachev's shake-up of Soviet management and his promises of deep economic restructuring. In sharp contrast to Gorbachev's, Honecker's speech yesterday contained no hint of criticism for the East German party or mention of the need for policy shifts.
A lengthy report on Gorbachev's address by the official East German news agency ADN today did not mention his call for self-criticism and reform of economic relations between Socialist countries or his description of "negative trends" and "far-reaching reforms" in the Soviet Union.