MOSCOW — Eight U.S. senators arrived Saturday for talks with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and were told in advance by a high-ranking Soviet expert on the United States that relations between the two countries are now "very bad."
The statement was made by Georgy A. Arbatov, director of the Instutute for Study of the U.S.A. and Canada, a longtime America-watcher who holds the rank of a full member of the Communist Party Central Committee. Arbatov spoke to reporters after Senate Democratic leader Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia said that the U.S. group wants to do all it can to pave the way for a successful summit meeting between Gorbachev and President Reagan in November.
"We're here to promote the cause of peace," Byrd said in an arrival statement noticeable for its conciliatory tone.
"This is a very critical time in the history of relations between our two countries, and it (the summit) may very well set the tone for many years," he added.
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), a strong anti-Communist, echoed Byrd's sentiments.
"We feel that on the eve of the summit, this visit can be very valuable to our country," Thurmond said at Sheremetyevo Airport, adding, "With good will on the part of both countries, we think peace can be preserved in the whole world," he added.
The senators are scheduled to meet Gorbachev on Tuesday and also hold discussions with top military and foreign trade officials.
Byrd said he is carrying a letter from Reagan that he will deliver personally to Gorbachev. He did not discuss its contents.
Chemical Dust for Spying
The senators arrived amid a squabble over U.S. charges that the Soviet KGB has used a potentially hazardous chemical dust to keep track of the movements of American diplomats in Moscow and their Soviet visitors.
Soviet officials angrily denied the accusations and asserted that they were invented by the CIA to prevent any normalization of relations.
Reagan's decision to test an anti-satellite weapon also triggered strong Soviet protests that such a step would provoke an arms race in space.
In addition, Soviet officials have said that world tensions would be raised by the U.S. refusal to follow the lead of the Kremlin in announcing a moratorium on the testing of nuclear devices.
Asked about some of these issues, Byrd refused to be discouraged.
"We have problems, and this is what we hope to discuss, and the President will be willing to discuss them. . . . At this point, we ought to leave them as they are."
Byrd said his delegation wants to impress on Gorbachev the fact that, under the American system, treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
But Arbatov, the Soviet America-watcher, said that at the moment, ratification is not the issue. "The problem is to get the treaties," he said. "There is nothing to ratify."
Asked for his appraisal of the state of Soviet-American relations, Arbatov replied, "Very bad, I am sorry to say."
Thurmond said the purpose of the lawmakers' visit here "is to try to promote peace in every way we can."
Besides Byrd and Thurmond, members of the delegation are Sens. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), John W. Warner (R-Va.), Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.).