STOCKHOLM — The 35-nation European conference on security and confidence-building measures recessed Friday after Soviet and American negotiators acknowledged, with different degrees of enthusiasm, that some progress was made toward an agreement that could reduce the risk of war in Europe.
Soviet Ambassador Oleg A. Grinevsky said that the talks had "made possible more in-depth consideration of political and military matters."
But he emphasized that positions assumed by East and West had not come any closer "on any element of substance."
U.S. Ambassador James E. Goodby said that the conference "seems at last to have taken the road toward genuine negotiations," although these must wait until the talks resume here in May.
A compromise agreement that may eventually emerge, Goodby said, would give the West an earlier and better warning of Soviet military activities, while the Soviet Bloc would get a Western political commitment--"a reaffirmation," Goodby called it--of the principle of "no first use of force."
Officially called the Conference on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe, the Stockholm meeting began in January, 1984, at a low point in Soviet-American relations. It has the relatively modest goal of devising measures between East and West that would create confidence between them and enhance the security of both.
In effect, it has become a sideshow to the talks now under way again in Geneva, aimed at reducing the level of nuclear weapons on both sides.
Nevertheless, Western Europeans fear that conventional war is more likely than an all-out nuclear exchange and, therefore, that anything achieved here can be of immediate and practical value.
Even East Europeans, who have adhered to the Soviet line in these discussions, suggest in private that they, too, would benefit from some Western proposals, particularly those dealing with advance knowledge of Soviet troop movements.
Moreover, the existence of a deadline for this conference--the 35 governments represented are to report back, in the fall of 1986, to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe--holds out a promise of more progress here than at the Geneva talks, expected by both sides to continue long into the future.
The conference here grew out of the 1975 Conference on European Security and Cooperation in Helsinki. Some confidence-building measures were agreed upon then in hopes of reducing suspicion between East and West. For example, each side now provides advance notice to the other of military maneuvers involving 25,000 or more men. The goal at Stockholm is to broaden and extend the steps taken at Helsinki.
The Soviets have proposed reducing the notification threshold to 20,000 men. But the West has rejected that as no more than a token improvement and has proposed that each side do the following:
--Provide notice of maneuvers involving as few as 6,000 men, or an army division, in land or amphibious operations.
--Accept observers from the other side and give them freedom of movement to verify key aspects of the maneuvers. Under present rules, observers must be invited and may be closely circumscribed in their movements.
--Permit on-site inspection to enable the other side to satisfy itself that all military activities have been properly disclosed.
--Present to the other side an annual forecast of notifiable activities, to raise the political cost of sudden, surprise maneuvers aimed at intimidating a neighbor (such as those conducted by the Soviets in 1980 on the Polish border).
Western diplomats here admit that on-site inspection is unlikely to be approved before it is taken up at Geneva, where it may be employed as a bargaining point. Even the annual forecast proposal will be difficult to negotiate, they said.
But they feel, as one put it, that the Soviets have shown willingness to "go for a decision here that we can live with."
The Soviets asked for a statement pledging to refrain from the first use of nuclear as well as conventional forces. Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization insist that the declaration must exclude nuclear forces, upon which they rely to counter the threat of superior Soviet conventional force, and the Soviets now appear to have dropped the word nuclear.
Another Soviet proposal was to limit the size of maneuvers to 40,000 men, but the West has rejected this as blatantly one-sided. The Soviets exercise their troops often and in relatively small units, while the NATO forces exercise infrequently, sometimes only once a year, but in large formations.
The Soviets have called for political constraints as well, such as freezing national military budgets, but these have "no chance" for acceptance by the conference, Goodby said.
The West is prepared to sign a "no first use of force" declaration, which would reassure the Soviets that it is not planning a surprise attack of any kind, Goodby added, if the Soviets will accept more stringent military confidence-building measures in return.