MOSCOW — The Soviet Union, formally protesting a U.S. demand for a 38% reduction in the size of the Soviet missions to the United Nations, said Tuesday that the action raises the odds against a second summit meeting between Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and President Reagan.
A Foreign Ministry official delivered the protest to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. It said that the American demand is "arbitrary, unfounded and . . . illegitimate" and that it violates the U.S. obligation as host country for the United Nations. The protest also said the U.S. action raises the question of whether the world organization's headquarters should be moved to another nation.
"The U.S. Administration must be aware that such actions increase distrust of its policy and by no means create a favorable background for a summit meeting," the Soviet official told Richard J. Combs, charge d'affaires of the embassy, who was acting in the absence of Ambassador Arthur A. Hartman.
The two superpower leaders met last November in Geneva and planned to meet again, first this year in the United States and then in 1987 in the Soviet Union.
However, Gorbachev has recently linked the timing of a 1986 meeting to progress in arms control negotiations, and Reagan retorted that he would not go to the Soviet Union next year if Gorbachev did not come to the United States this summer.
Some Soviet officials have indicated, however, that the meeting planned for this year will take place regardless of whether any headway is achieved in the arms talks.
The latest exchange began Friday, when U.S. officials told Moscow to reduce the number of U.N. diplomats representing the Soviet Union and the republics of the Ukraine and Byelorussia to 170, from 275, over the next two years.
Repeating U.S. Position
Combs said after receiving the protest that he had repeated the U.S. position put forward when the State Department first called for a sharp reduction in Soviet personnel at the United Nations--namely that over the years many Soviet diplomats have been engaged in espionage.
In Washington on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Charles Redman elaborated on that view. He said that even after its staffs were reduced, the Soviet missions would still be the largest at the United Nations and would be able to conduct U.N. business.
"We are prepared to work with the Soviets to ensure minimal dislocation in effecting these reductions," Redman said, adding that staffs could be reduced principally through attrition.
The Soviet protest, published by the official news agency Tass, said: "It must be also clear that such actions cannot but tell most seriously (about) the development of contacts between our countries in various fields. Of course, the Soviet side cannot pass over such unlawful U.S. actions and will have to draw appropriate conclusions for itself."
It suggested that new exchange programs, authorized by an agreement signed in Geneva, may be affected adversely by the U.S. stance on the U.N. staffing matter.
The Soviet statement said it is "utterly illegitimate" to compare the number of Soviet diplomats with the 125 people assigned to the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
"The functioning of the U.S. mission is ensured both by the Department of State and private firms, whereas the Soviet mission provides everything it needs on its own," the statement went on.