MOSCOW — Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev said in a letter to a London official Thursday that the Soviet Union would give "firm and effective" guarantees that it would not aim nuclear weapons at Britain if it scrapped its nuclear arsenal and ordered U.S. nuclear arms out of the country.
Gorbachev also cited the Soviet Union's moratorium on nuclear testing as proof of its willingness to move toward disarmament but did not say whether the moratorium is still in effect.
When Gorbachev announced the Soviet test ban last August, he said it would end Jan. 1 unless the United States agreed to go along with it. The United States refused.
The official Soviet news agency Tass carried the text of Gorbachev's letter to Ken Livingstone, leader of London's governing body, the Greater London Council. Tass said Gorbachev responded to a letter from Livingstone last month.
Gorbachev said the Soviets would not aim or use nuclear weapons against Britain if British nuclear forces were dismantled and the United States was forbidden to maintain a nuclear force.
In a radio interview in London, Livingstone, a member of the national opposition Labor Party, said Gorbachev's statement "may not seem like much of a concession, but it's the first time that the Soviet Union has gone that far."
Earlier Position Cited
The Soviet Union frequently has said it would not use nuclear weapons against countries that declare themselves nuclear-free, and Gorbachev alluded to that position in his letter. It was not known before, however, whether the offer specifically had been made to Britain.
In 1981, the Greater London Council declared London a nuclear-free zone. The Labor Party, which dominates London politics, has pledged to rid Britain of nuclear weapons if elected to govern the country.
Gorbachev's letter to Livingstone was trumpeted by Radio Moscow as soon as it was released by Tass.
Neither Tass nor the radio mentioned that Livingstone will be in office only until March 31, when the Greater London Council will be abolished as part of a nationwide reform of local government.
Gorbachev also criticized President Reagan's "Star Wars" research effort into space-based anti-missile systems, saying it "could lead to strategic chaos." He reiterated that the Geneva arms control talks can progress only if the program is abandoned.