The Reagan administration yesterday accused the Soviet Union of suddenly "drawing back" from progress in nuclear-arms negotiations in Geneva and from a high-level Washington session to prepare the ground for a 1987 summit meeting of President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The statements by State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman followed an hour-long meeting yesterday morning of Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Ambassador Yuri Dubinin.
The administration had hoped that Dubinin, who returned Tuesday from several weeks of consultations in Moscow, would bring word that Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze is ready to accept Shultz's invitation to visit Washington this month.
The visit was proposed by the U.S. side to break remaining logjams in the way of a U.S.-Soviet treaty on intermediate-range and shorter-range nuclear missiles and to begin planning for a Reagan-Gorbachev meeting here this fall.
To the disappointment of Shultz and senior aides, Dubinin said nothing about a trip by Shevardnadze, and he repeated unacceptable parts of the Soviet positions in the Geneva talks, according to U.S. officials.
In view of U.S. expectations, this left the impression promptly made public by Redman that "the Soviet Union seems to be drawing back in the last week or two from what we would consider a constructive or positive approach to addressing some of the tough issues that are out there." Redman specified the foreign ministers' meeting and the Geneva talks as trouble areas.
There was no consensus among senior U.S. officials about how serious the Soviet "slowdown" is or why it has arisen at this time.
Some officials expressed the view that the Soviet unwillingness to agree to a Shultz-Shevardnadze meeting now, plus other signs of a stiffening Soviet posture, dims the chances for an early Euromissiles treaty and makes a Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting this year increasingly uncertain.
If the two foreign ministers do not meet until the fall, a Euromissiles treaty and summit meeting "The Soviet Union seems to be drawing back . . . from what we would consider a constructive or positive approach."
-- Charles E. Redman
before late November or early December would seem unlikely -- and even that timetable probably would require a key Soviet concession on nuclear warheads in Asia, which is currently not assured.
Other officials, who said Moscow has given no clear sign of its intentions, cautioned that delay in a Shultz-Shevardnadze meeting may only prove temporary and that movement toward a treaty and a summit meeting might be resumed as quickly and mysteriously as it seems to have been suspended.
About two weeks ago, in the reckoning of some officials, or even later in the reckoning of others, Soviet negotiators in the Geneva arms talks became noticeably less willing to make progress in detailed discussions of the Euromissiles treaty.
Previous informal remarks by Soviet officials suggested that only a few bureaucratic formalities stood in the way of Shevardnadze's acceptance of Shultz's invitation to visit Washington in mid-July.
Based on these informal contacts, U.S. arms adviser Edward L. Rowny made an unauthorized announcement in Geneva June 23 that Shultz and Shevardnadze had agreed to the session.
Shortly after that, however, Soviet diplomats began to question whether such a high-level session should be held until further progress is made by the two sides toward arms control agreements. This stand was puzzling to those in Washington who saw the Shultz-Shevardnadze meeting itself as the most promising means to make the needed breakthrough on the remaining Euromissiles issues.
Those who tended to interpret the Soviet "drawing back" as serious cited several possible theories to explain it:Moscow may have decided to hang tough, at least for a while, on the issue of 72 Pershing 1A nuclear missiles in Germany, not previously a part of U.S.-Soviet bargaining, but one the Soviets pressed in April. The issue is a troublesome, touchy one within the West German government, and any U.S. compromises could strain Washington-Bonn relations. The Soviets may be watching the current Iran-contra hearings to see whether or to what extent Reagan's political leadership is damaged in the eyes of Congress or the public. With this question unlikely to be resolved before fall, Moscow may have decided that a waiting game is in order for the time being both on a Euromissiles treaty and a Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting. Gorbachev's recent successes in placing key aides on the Communist Party's ruling Politburo and obtaining backing for his economic reforms from the Party's Central Committee and the Supreme Soviet, the pro forma national parliament, may have lessened his need and desire for early foreign policy successes to strengthen his leadership position.
In an optimistic scenario, the lack of movement may presage a dramatic move by Gorbachev to break the deadlock in a way that wins him maximum international credit.
Even the best-informed officials conceded that their analyses of Soviet intentions and maneuvering were based on little more than guesswork.