WASHINGTON — Reagan Administration officials are working to devise a "declaration at Geneva" that could be issued from the U.S.-Soviet summit meeting in November and move the superpower arms talks out of their current impasse, according to U.S. officials.
But wide differences within the Administration have caused a split over what such an arms control statement should contain. The State Department is arguing for "substantive" language, while Pentagon officials do not even want to repeat key phrases from the communique that laid the basis for the current arms talks.
Some Administration officials have talked of fashioning a radical declaration--a "conceptual breakthrough"--that would spell out the interconnection between offensive nuclear weapons and defensive space weapons, now being discussed in separate forums in Geneva.
This sort of statement, they say, would lay the basis for trading off the Soviet advantage in land-based missiles--which gives Moscow a surprise attack potential--in exchange for the Administration's space-based missile defense system, informally known as "Star Wars."
However, these officials concede that this might only be possible at a subsequent summit, which they expect will be agreed to in principle during the Nov. 19-20 meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Thus far, Reagan has steadfastly refused to use the "Star Wars" plan, or Strategic Defense Initiative, to bargain for deep cuts in Soviet offensive weapons.
'Meeting of Minds'
One senior official described the Administration as attempting to formulate a statement that would represent a "meeting of minds" on the current arms talks--but other officials agreed that there appears to be too little time and too much suspicion on both sides to permit a far-reaching arms statement this November.
Any declaration thus "would not be a precise agreement with numbers, but an effort to remove roadblocks" that currently impede progress at Geneva, the senior official said.
Work toward a joint arms statement from the summit began last July after Secretary of State George P. Shultz met Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze in Helsinki, U.S. officials said. At that time, the two men discussed three levels of results that could flow from the summit and agreed that they should aim for the greatest success.
The most productive result would be a conceptual breakthrough comparable to the 1974 Vladivostok agreement between former President Gerald R. Ford and the late Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev, the officials said. That agreement set a ceiling of 2,400 intercontinental missiles and bombers for both sides, with multiple warheads on a maximum of 1,320 of those vehicles.
Least productive would be numerous small agreements that have long been prepared, such as restoration of Soviet airline landing rights and opening of new consular offices, as well as relatively innocuous new steps, such as the promise of a summit next year.
In between would lie substantive movement on the key issue of arms control, such as extending the second strategic arms limitation treaty past its Dec. 31 expiration date. For example, some officials suggest, joint studies might be established on the vexing problems of verification and compliance with terms of existing treaties, and on the revival of nuclear test ban agreements that have been signed but not ratified.
The possibility of a broad breakthrough quickly ran into Reagan's opposition to compromising on "Star Wars."
An obvious sticking point in crafting the declaration, one official explained, arises because the Soviets have insisted that the United States begin talks on space weapons before Moscow will negotiate seriously on offensive weapons, while Washington has wanted to nail down Soviet hints of "radical reductions" in offensive weapons without discussing space defense restraints.
So far, the Defense Department has objected to any suggestion of trading space defense for offensive weapons, according to other Administration officials. In particular, the Pentagon opposes repeating two phrases from a Jan. 8 U.S.-Soviet communique.
One phrase states: "The negotiations will be a complex of questions concerning space and nuclear arms. . . with all questions considered and resolved in their interrelationship." The other says that the objective of the talks will be "preventing an arms race in space."
The U.S. delegation led by Shultz accepted those phrases only after the Soviets hinted at a walkout, according to one official. But now, the Pentagon does not want those phrases or variations of them repeated in a summit communique because, it fears, it will open the door to compromise on space defenses.