A headline on yesterday's front page erroneously referred to Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze as a Russian. Shevardnadze is a native of Soviet Georgia. (Published 11/21/87)
Secretary of State George P. Shultz plans to meet Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in Geneva Monday and Tuesday to prepare for next month's Washington summit after strong hints that the Soviet Union is moving closer toward withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, State Department officials said yesterday.
The hints of a shift, which emerged in discussions this week between Undersecretary of State Michael H. Armacost and Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Yuli Vorontsov, included Soviet statements that a new round of U.N.-sponsored talks on Afghanistan is expected to begin by February and should be the last one needed in the five-year series.
The State Department sources said Vorontsov seemed to validate recent public statements from a Soviet official that a troop pullout could be completed seven to 12 months after an agreement, indicating a possibility that Soviet forces would be out of Afghanistan by the end of the Reagan administration.
Probing the emerging Soviet position on the Afghanistan war was described as one of several purposes of the Shultz-Shevardnadze meeting, which is to be formally announced in Washington and Moscow today and is to be the fourth round of talks by the two in little more than two months.
One topic at the meeting is to be the schedule for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's three days here, including the increasingly sticky issue of his possible appearance before a joint meeting of Congress.
House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) yesterday joined a GOP revolt against inviting Gorbachev to address Congress, calling it "a terrible mistake" that would give the summit "an inappropriate symbolic value."
Michel's announcement, which followed a letter to President Reagan from 75 conservative House members opposing a Gorbachev address, put such an event in grave doubt.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that "as far as we're concerned" Gorbachev has not been formally invited to address a joint congressional meeting and depicted such a formal session as only one of several proposals being considered as a means for Gorbachev to have contact with U.S. lawmakers.
The speech has been announced on Capitol Hill for Dec. 9, but the United States is waiting for a reply from the Soviets to a request that Reagan be allowed to address the Soviet people on television from the United States. Fitzwater said the Soviets have not sent word about how Gorbachev prefers to see the legislators, many of whom have visited him in the Kremlin.
A State Department official said another topic at the Geneva meeting will be final preparations for an intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty to be signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in their summit here Dec. 8-10. He said that these preparations seem to be "in good shape" and that Shultz hopes to spend little time on the subject.
INF negotiators are planning to work through the weekend trying to finish unsettled issues before Shultz and Shevardnadze arrive.
State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said one issue still outstanding is Soviet presentation of complete data on the location of medium-range and shorter-range nuclear missiles to be dismantled and banned under the INF pact. "The Soviets say it will be forthcoming," Redman said.
Shultz, who is to leave here Sunday and return Wednesday after a briefing with NATO officials in Brussels, expects to spend considerable time with Shevardnadze seeking to lay groundwork for a summit breakthrough on strategic arms and space issues.
Both sides have identified completion of a strategic arms treaty to slash long-range nuclear arsenals as the top priority for the coming months, with the hope of signing the accord during a Reagan visit to Moscow in the first half of 1988.
Shultz and Shevardnadze also plan to discuss various regional questions, human rights and bilateral issues expected to come up at the summit, officials said.
Suggestions of a Soviet shift on Afghanistan are intriguing to U.S. officials because a Soviet decision to make public a withdrawal plan soon would improve the atmosphere for ratification of the INF treaty and of any follow-on strategic arms treaty that can be negotiated.
Vorontsov did not make clear to Armacost the composition of the Afghan government after withdrawal of Soviet forces, saying this is a decision for Afghans, State Department sources said. In the absence of an advance accord, Afghan resistance groups would probably fight it out with the communist-dominated government in Kabul.
The 11 previous rounds of indirect U.N.-sponsored talks between Pakistan and the Afghan government have aimed at working out a package deal including a cease-fire on all sides, U.S. and Soviet guarantees of an end to outside military aid and a program of national reconciliation.
But the composition of the post-withdrawal government has barely been addressed and is nowhere near resolution.