Despite the cooling of U.S.-Soviet relations following the U.S. bombing of Libya, the two nuclear superpowers held technical-level talks here last week on upgrading the hot line and are expected to hold several sets of more substantive diplomatic discussions in the weeks ahead, according to administration officials.
State Department officials said the continuing contacts in a variety of fields suggest that the setback to U.S.-Soviet relations will be temporary. One official said that a summit planning session of Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze -- set for May 14-16 but called off by Moscow following the U.S. attack on Libya -- may be discussed in diplomatic channels again in about a month.
Shultz, appearing Tuesday in a Voice of America interview, said, "We think there are many important problems that need to be discussed, that need to be negotiated about and potential agreements that could be made." He added that the United States is ready to talk. "Quite a few meetings of various kinds" are scheduled, he said, but he conceded that a foreign ministers' meeting, which is not now in sight, would provide "the major thrust" toward the next U.S.-Soviet summit.
A Pentagon spokesman said the meetings of technical experts on upgrading the Washington-Moscow crisis communications link or hot line were held here Wednesday through Friday. The spokesman said the U.S. team under Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for communications Robert C. Ribera worked with the Soviet team on "fine tuning" the operations of facsimile transmission through the line.
The White House announced July 17, 1984, that the hot line would be expanded and improved by joint agreement. Operational tests began last fall on sending pages of text or graphic material between the two capitals via the hot line, an improvement on its data exchange capability.
U.S. and Soviet negotiators on reductions of nuclear and space arms are expected to reconvene in Geneva May 8 after a recess that began March 4, according to State Department officials. There is no indication that these talks will be delayed or affected by the Libya events, the officials said.
A separate set of U.S. and Soviet negotiations is scheduled in a week or two on possibilities for establishing "nuclear risk reduction centers" to reduce the chances of accidental nuclear war, according to the officials. The impetus for this discussion came from Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.). President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed at their Geneva summit meeting last November to study the creation of such centers "at the expert level."
Shultz said Tuesday that U.S.-Soviet diplomatic discussions on disputes in various geographical regions are "going forward and are scheduled and will take place" despite the discord over Libya. The next set of such regional talks, on Latin American problems, is planned for Moscow in May, other officials said.
It is a foregone conclusion in official circles that the June-July timetable for the second Reagan-Gorbachev summit, as proposed by the United States, has gone by the boards. The next summit date acceptable to the United States is following the November elections. State Department officials said they think Gorbachev still would like to have a summit this year, as agreed during his previous encounter with Reagan at Geneva.