WASHINGTON — Negotiators at a 35-nation security conference in Stockholm have taken what one senior U.S. official described Wednesday as a "major step" toward an agreement intended to reduce the chance of accidental war between NATO and Warsaw Pact nations in Europe.
The Soviet Union has agreed to specify the sort of military activities that will require advance notification by both sides, which had been a key point of contention, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
And, in a further indication of progress in the 31-month-old talks, another official, State Department spokesman Charles Redman, said a Western agreement to notify the Soviet Bloc of transatlantic troop movements makes possible a general agreement on sharing information about certain types of military activity in Europe.
Viewed as Breakthrough
In what is being viewed as a breakthrough, the United States would provide notification of troop arrivals in Europe--which it had previously argued should not be included because it would open some of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's naval operations in the Atlantic to foreign inspection--in return for Moscow's reports on Soviet troops.
While the United States and Soviet Union remain at odds over specific elements involved in the verification of troop movements, the Kremlin's delegates have accepted, in principle, inspections intended to provide assurances of the accuracy of such reports.
But Redman, in a statement calling for more Soviet progress on the issue of verification of such reports, said: "We call on the Soviet Union and its allies to match our demonstration of flexibility by meeting Western concerns in these areas."
The meeting on East-West conventional military activities, formally known as the Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe, is working under what is considered to be an inflexible deadline of Sept. 19 to reach an agreement on "confidence-building" measures.
These steps are being negotiated to help the forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact avoid misinterpreting as hostile operations the routine maneuvers and other military activities each undertakes between the Atlantic and the Ural Mountains, the eastern boundary of Soviet Europe.
On a voluntary basis, nations already report at least 21 days in advance any operations involving more than 25,000 troops.
The United States has proposed that this limit be brought down "to the low teens," the senior State Department official said, and the Soviets have countered with a figure in the "high teens." Although these differences are said to remain, they reflect at least some progress because, at one point, Western participants in the meeting had sought a limit of 6,000.
However, the official said, the potentially more troublesome element of defining what sort of activities would require advance notification appears to have been resolved.
"The Soviets said: 'We will agree to specify the kinds of activities that count,' " the official stated.
The United States entered the talks proposing that any movement of troops beyond their garrisons should be preceded by announcement of the plans. But the Soviets objected that such requirements could bring about notification of departures for such non-military activities as "class picnics," the source said.
Now, however, the activities have been refined to those involving military maneuvers and exercises.
"Arriving at that list of specifics does advance" the prospect for an overall agreement, the senior official said. "Having gotten the agreed list--what it is you're trying to notify--that is a major step."
Reaching agreement among the participants, which include the United States, Canada and virtually all European nations, now depends largely on resolving by the September deadline the remaining questions about where the inspections of troop movements would be made.
By coincidence, Sept. 19 is the scheduled date of a visit to Washington by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, providing additional pressure on the Soviets to show a willingness to reach agreement in Stockholm. The Soviet official's trip here is intended to pave the way for a summit meeting in this country between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
In addition, Gorbachev has spoken of his interest in achieving progress in overall arms reductions in Europe. But, the senior State Department official said, "they've got to come up with an acceptable result" in Stockholm before moving to the broader conference.