WASHINGTON — The Soviet Union has offered to accept small-scale tests of the controversial U.S. "Star Wars" program and to halt construction of a suspicious Siberian radar, Reagan Administration officials said today.
The Soviet gesture on Star Wars is considered a positive move in dealing with the main impediment to progress on a new nuclear arms control treaty. Reagan's $26-billion program to develop a high-technology anti-missile shield has slowed arms negotiations in Geneva.
But the offer to halt work at the Krasnoyarsk site, which President Reagan branded as illegal in a report to Congress, is drawing a skeptical U.S. response because it would depend on the United States not going ahead with the modernization of early-warning radar in Greenland and Britain.
"They have made us an offer we can refuse," an official said, stressing the importance of upgrading the Thule and Fylingdales radars in alerting the United States to a nuclear attack.
Both proposals, through diplomatic channels in Geneva, appear to be part of a concerted public relations campaign by the Soviets in advance of Reagan's Nov. 19-20 summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
The Soviets are resisting cuts in offensive nuclear weapons unless curbs are also applied to the Strategic Defense Initiative. But Reagan has refused to submit the program, known popularly as Star Wars, to the give-and-take of the negotiating table.
The President also concluded this month that research, testing and development of anti-missile technology does not violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. The Soviets, and many American scientists and analysts, insist that the U.S. program flouts the arms control accord.
However, Gorbachev informed Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) in Moscow in September that fundamental space research cannot be verified--or thereby challenged by the Soviet Union.
Subsequently, officials said, Soviet negotiators in Geneva acknowledged that tests of "small-scale mock-ups" could not be challenged when they essentially are extensions of laboratory research. However, Moscow still objects to full-scale engineering development of anti-missile devices, said a U.S. official who demanded anonymity.
"If they can't see it they can't stop it," was another official's description of the Soviet position.
Move Viewed as Calculated
The offer to halt construction of the Siberian radar appears conciliatory, but it is viewed within the Administration as an attempt to block a key U.S. program. Larry Speakes, the presidential spokesman, indicated that the United States would not trade work at Thule and Fylingdales for Krasnoyarsk.
He said the U.S. construction work is legal because the installations existed before former President Richard M. Nixon and the late Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev signed the 1972 treaty in Moscow.
The Soviet radar system "is foreclosed by the ABM treaty," he said. The Soviets say the radar is for tracking space satellites, but the Administration contends it is designed for battle management.