Some Reagan administration officials are arguing for an early response to the recent Soviet arms proposal in Geneva as a way to speed planning for a summit meeting late this year between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, informed sources said yesterday.
Advocates of a quick response, however, are opposed by hardliners who believe such a step "would be playing to the Soviet music," as one official put it, and capitulating to Gorbachev's insistence on progress in nuclear arms talks before setting a summit date.
Advocates of this view are likely to prevail, the source predicted, delaying a response until the next round of Geneva negotiations begins Sept. 18.
Other government officials who believe that the recent Soviet offer showed new flexibility are pushing for a U.S. response this summer, perhaps as part of an agenda for a meeting between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. That would give both sides an opportunity to prepare for the September round in Geneva and begin laying the groundwork for agreement on a summit date, sources said.
A planned Shultz-Shevardnadze meeting in May to begin preparations for the summit in the United States was cancelled by Moscow after the U.S. raid on Libya in April. Shultz recently said that he was ready to reschedule that meeting and, though precedent would suggest that it occur in the United States, he "wasn't hung up over locale," according to a State Department spokesman.
Some department officials want to reschedule the meeting for July, when Shevardnadze will be in London.
Yesterday, a White House official said only that a response to the latest Soviet proposal is "under serious consideration," with the timing of the reply still "a key question."
Meanwhile, the Soviets kept up their public pressure on the United States regarding arms control.
On Capitol Hill, the new Soviet ambassador to the United States, Yuri Dubinin, met with Senate Democratic leaders and handed them a resolution from Moscow's top legislative body, the Supreme Soviet, calling for a "working meeting" with appropriate congressional committees to discuss "mutual concerns which the Soviet and American parliamentarians have about the Soviet-American agreements on strategic arms limitations."
Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said in a statement after the meeting that he had stressed the importance of a Reagan-Gorbachev summit and that any dialogue between the two legislative bodies "should only begin after a summit date had been agreed upon."
In Geneva on Tuesday, on the eve of the end of the latest round of talks, Vladimir Petrovsky, a Soviet deputy foreign minister, criticized the United States for not having "moved an inch" since 1985, according to a Reuters dispatch.
The United States is to present its analysis of the latest round of arms talks today with a news release from the White House and a statement by chief negotiator Max M. Kampelman.
When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets today, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), a strong opponent of moves to force the president to continue to observe the limits of the strategic arms limitation treaty, is expected to request that the treaty be sent to the Senate floor for a vote.
On May 27, Reagan announced he would no longer be bound by the treaty's limits though he said he would dismantle two Poseidon-missile submarines to remain in compliance currently. Signed in 1979, the treaty never has been ratified by the Senate.
Helms, according to Senate aides, wants to demonstrate lack of support for it.
Supporters plan to head off a Senate vote by tabling the Helms motion in the committee, arguing that the treaty expired Dec. 31.
In a related matter, the United States conducted a joint underground nuclear weapon test with the British at the Nevada Test Site yesterday, according to the Energy Department.
The shot was the sixth U.S. test announced this year and the 13th since Gorbachev declared a unilateral moratorium on Soviet testing last July and asked the United States to join.