WASHINGTON — President Reagan met for three hours Friday with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and received a secret new arms control proposal from the Kremlin.
Reagan made it clear after the meeting that he has not changed his mind on refusing to bargain away his Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense system in the arms talks. But Secretary of State George Shultz said he welcomes the new proposal as a change in the Soviet position and a potential basis for negotiations.
"It's different from what they have been saying (at the arms talks) and we look for it to be put on the table in Geneva," Shultz said. "Combined with what we have on the table, we hope that can lead to a process of genuine negotiation. So we welcome that."
The arms proposal, contained in a letter from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was a prime focus during the meeting that saw Reagan and Shevardnadze lay out the issues and arguments that will be made at the Nov. 19-20 superpower summit in Geneva.
At an unusual briefing of his own, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko said Sheverdnadze presented "concrete proposals" for the Geneva negotiators. The phrase was the same one that Administration spokesmen had used to describe the kind of proposals they demanded that the Soviets make.
But Lomeiko was as tight-lipped as Shultz about the details.
He described the meeting as "businesslike," adding, "This conversation was important and we hope mutually beneficial, mutually useful."
In the days that preceded the meeting, Soviet sources hinted that Shevardnadze would present Reagan with a proposal for reductions as large as 40% in nuclear arsenals, along with limits on specific classes of weapons. There was no indication that that was the proposal given to Reagan.
The session--a two-hour meeting in the Oval Office followed by a one-hour luncheon in the residence quarters of the White House--was Reagan's first face-to-face meeting with the new Soviet leadership.
Shevardnadze later had a late afternoon meeting with Shultz.
'Talked to Each Other'
Reagan told reporters that he was satisfied with the meeting. "It's always progress when you're talking to each other," he said. "And we talked to each other."
Shultz said that the Soviets will present the new offer next Monday and Tuesday during a special two-day combined session of the Geneva negotiations on strategic arms, medium-range nuclear missiles and space and defensive weapons.
In refusing to divulge even broad elements of the Soviet offer, Shultz said that the United States, which has accused Moscow of "a sophisticated" pre-summit public relations campaign, wants to see the negotiations proceed in private.
But Reagan's multibillion-dollar Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed "Star Wars," remains the biggest obstacle to progress in the Geneva arms talks.
Faced with a Soviet demand that he accept curbs on the program as a condition for reductions in nuclear arsenals, Reagan reaffirmed his dedication to the Strategic Defense Initiative just moments after bidding Shevardnadze farewell.
'Determined to Go Forward'
"It is where it has always been," Reagan said. "We are determined to go forward."
Reagan outlined to Shevardnadze his view of how the superpowers could move away from their 40-year reliance on the threat of massive retaliation to deter nuclear war to a position that stresses the importance of defensive systems.
Shultz said Reagan stressed that the research phase of his search for a futuristic protection against nuclear missiles is consistent with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, despite Soviet charges to the contrary, and raised the related issue of alleged Soviet treaty violations.
Shultz said the Reagan-Shevardnadze meeting produced "general agreement" on a summit agenda, with both sides committed to discussing security issues, regional problems and bilateral relations, and Reagan determined to add a fourth item--human rights--to the list.
The Soviets consider any discussion of human rights to be unwarranted interference in their domestic affairs. As Reagan and Shevardnadze met, Soviet emigres and other groups demonstrated outside against Soviet human rights policies.
Greeted by Gloria
Shevardnadze arrived at the White House in a squall spawned by Hurricane Gloria and left in bright sunshine. Posing for photographs in the Oval Office, he played coy when asked whether he had brought a new arms proposal.
"I'm not going to comment," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "If I tell everything to you, what am I going to say to the President?"
Shultz said the substantive talks opened with "a comprehensive presentation" of U.S. views across a range of issues. Shevardnadze followed with a similar presentation, which included a summary of the letter from Gorbachev.