PRAGUE, NOV. 16 -- In the first sign of resistance within the East Bloc to U.S.-Soviet arms agreements, senior Czechoslovak officials have publicly affirmed that some groups in the country view Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's arms-control proposals as a threat to the basic interests of communist rule.
Officials say that the hard-line view, which emerged in a speech here last week by Foreign Minister Bohulsav Chnoupek, is held by a minority of conservatives within the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Party officials stress that the leadership of Gustav Husak fully supports Gorbachev's arms initiatives as well as his participation in the upcoming U.S.-Soviet summit.
Nevertheless, western diplomats here say the official public references to opposition to the arms-control proposals are unusual and may be backed by officials on the ruling Czechoslovak party presidium. Some presidium members have previously appeared to oppose Gorbachev's policies of economic reform and glasnost, or political reform.
The statements are the first to be made by ranking Warsaw Pact officials suggesting that doubts exist within the bloc about a prospective U.S.-Soviet arms agreement banning intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) or a future accord on strategic weapons. Until now, all of Moscow's six East European allies have enthusiastically supported the steps and confidently predicted success for the summit.
Western diplomats, though unsure how to interpret the remarks, said that some Czechoslovak leaders may be concerned that an INF agreement and the Washington summit may lead to a rapid disarmament process in Europe in which Soviet conventional forces could eventually be withdrawn from the region. The conservative Husak government, which came to power after a Soviet-led invasion in 1968, may find this prospect unsettling, the diplomats said.
"Some people may think the process is moving too fast," said one diplomat here. "Or they may feel a new era of detente between the superpowers is simply not in their interest."
Foreign Minister Chnoupek's reference to the opposition came in a speech last week to the Czechoslovak Parliament, days after Gorbachev had addressed a meeting of communist and socialist leaders in Moscow on the subject of peace initiatives.
Chnoupek summarized and praised new Soviet efforts to reach arms agreements with the United States. Then he said that "we may encounter the question of whether socialism did not already set itself similar tasks in the past or whether the unprecedented peace activity of the Soviet Union and the socialist states on the international scene does not pose a risk to our class interests."
Chnoupek added that Soviet policy "has been consistently adhering to Leninist principles." However, he also cautioned that "fundamental change in international developments pursued through collective efforts of states needs, of course, time. They cannot be put into practice immediately and all at once."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Dusan Rovensky said today that Chnoupek had been referring to "a group of people in the Czechoslovak public . . . who do not understand the changes the world has gone through. To these people it might seem that compromise is unacceptable.
"I don't think that this is an exceptional problem," Rovensky added in an interview. "In all historic moments of change there are people who speak of things without regard to concrete conditions. This is a normal process of creating opinion which is taking place in all countries."
Another official, Milan Jelinek, said that in Czechoslovakia, "we have people who think there is a change in Soviet policy that is very difficult to understand.
"These people have doubts, and they are asking questions," said Jelinek, the foreign editor of the party newspaper Rude Pravo. "And why not? This question is a legitimate political question."
Czechoslovakia was one of the strongest East Bloc exponents of a hard-line view on East-West relations during the early 1980s. Despite hints of reluctance about the Soviet deployment of SS20 intermediate-range missiles in the country in 1984, Prague publicly welcomed the move and assailed Warsaw Pact neighbors such as Hungary and East Germany when they appeared too open to improving relations with the West.
Earlier this year, Vasil Bilak, a presidium member widely viewed by western observers as a conservative hard-liner, delivered a virulent speech that appeared to reject Gorbachev's reform initiatives as "antisocialist."
Bilak has since anounced his support for Gorbachev, but signs of tension between Prague and Moscow have persisted.
Two weeks ago, Georgy Smirnov, a Soviet historian, raised questions by suggesting that the 1968 "Prague Spring" reforms, which were suppressed by Husak's leadership, should be reconsidered.
Rovensky said today that Smirnov's statement did not signal a change in official Soviet views of 1968 and that Gorbachev continued to support Husak and his policies.