Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger has invited his Soviet counterpart, Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov, to Washington for discussions early next month on arms control and other topics, senior Pentagon officials said yesterday.
If Yazov accepts, it would be the first meeting ever between top military officials of the two superpowers, the Pentagon officials said.
They said no reply has been received to Weinberger's letter to Yazov on September 22. But the officials expect such a meeting to occur because Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze backed the idea during public appearances and private discussions here with President Reagan and Secretary of State George P. Shultz two weeks ago.
A senior official said "Weinberger's agenda for the meeting is a broad one" and that it would "include but not be limited to bilateral issues, regional issues, and arms control."
Shevardnadze told reporters after the Shultz meetings that the primary item on the Soviet agenda for such discussions would be "the preservation and strengthening of the ABM treaty . . . . Particularly, I have in mind questions referring to the different positions concerning the possible violations of the ABM treaty."
Shevardnadze was referring to the Reagan administration's longstanding claim, rejected by the Soviets, that a large Soviet radar near the central Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk violates the 1972 Antiballistic Missile treaty and should be dismantled because it is sited too far from Soviet borders.
Weinberger has often denounced the radar, citing its construction as evidence that the Soviets may be preparing to deploy a nationwide ballistic missile defense. Weinberger has also been a leader of administration opposition to discussion in the Geneva arms talks of potential limits on the Pentagon's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), aimed at providing a nationwide missile defense.
"We are proposing a meeting between the defense ministers . . . to discuss the various alleged violations and remove those irritants from Soviet-American relations," Shevardnadze said.
He also suggested that the two defense ministers discuss their respective military doctrines, including a new Soviet interest in reducing military forces to those needed for an "adequate" defense, several U.S. officials said.
Shevardnadze added that his government wanted the meeting to occur "within the framework" of the so-called Standing Consultative Committee, a U.S.-Soviet group that meets periodically in Geneva to discuss alleged arms treaty violations. But Weinberger rejected this suggestion because he believes the committee is ineffective and should be disbanded, the Pentagon officials said.
Although Shevardnadze indicated that his government had initiated the proposal for a meeting of the two defense ministers, Pentagon officials challenged his account and said Weinberger had made it first in a letter last spring to Yazov's predecessor, Sergei Sokolov, that received no reply.
"Weinberger didn't accept the Soviet proposal -- they finally accepted ours," a senior Pentagon official said.
But other officials noted that Shevardnadze told Shultz in Moscow last April that the two defense ministers should meet to discuss a list of "devices" that each side would be permitted to launch into space -- a proposal that Weinberger has long opposed on the grounds that it would constrain space tests under the SDI program.
The Soviet Union has also proposed a series of meetings between lower-level "experts" of Warsaw Pact and North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries to compare and explain military doctrines.