MOSCOW — A Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman denied Tuesday that the KGB jailed American reporter Nicholas Daniloff in retaliation for the arrest of a Soviet national in New York last month.
"Daniloff was caught, unfortunately for the journalistic community, red-handed with a sealed envelope which contained secret documents, . . . like in a bad spy movie," spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov said.
U.S. officials have speculated that Daniloff, 52, was framed by the KGB, the secret police agency, and was being held as a possible trade for Gennady F. Zakharov, a Soviet U.N. employee arrested on Aug. 23 in New York and charged with buying secret information from an undercover FBI agent.
Gerasimov insisted that Daniloff's detention was a "separate case" from the Zakharov arrest.
Asked who authorized the arrest of Daniloff, Gerasimov said only, "He was detained by workers of the Committee for State Security (KGB)."
'Secret' Maps and Photos
Daniloff, a veteran Moscow correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, was arrested Saturday by eight KGB agents who appeared in a Lenin Hills park immediately after he had accepted a package from a Soviet acquaintance. When opened, the package was found to contain two maps marked "secret" as well as photographs of Soviet military installations, Daniloff's wife, Ruth, has told reporters.
The United States has vigorously protested Daniloff's arrest, calling the allegations that he was engaged in espionage totally unfounded.
Mortimer B. Zuckerman, chairman and editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report, met with Soviet officials Tuesday in an effort to secure Daniloff's release. Among them was the senior Kremlin adviser on U.S. affairs, Georgy A. Arbatov, who told him that the reasons for Daniloff's arrest "were none of my business," Zuckerman said.
Gerasimov said Daniloff was caught in "very suspicious circumstances." To the suggestion that Daniloff had been set up by the KGB and his Soviet acquaintance, Gerasimov said, "Nobody forced him to go there (to the meeting). He didn't have to have a secret meeting."
Gerasimov said the choice of the Lenin Hills as a meeting place was suspicious by itself, adding, "This is not a proper way to collect information--to go to the park."
Many Western correspondents arrange street meetings with Soviet acquaintances who fear retaliation if they are observed talking to a foreigner.
Watch Kept on Visitors
Nearly all offices and apartments of Western correspondents in Moscow are in buildings reserved by foreigners where a careful watch is kept on visitors, especially Soviet citizens.
Gerasimov assured other foreign correspondents that they had nothing to fear if they made "normal, businesslike contacts" with Soviet citizens. "Enjoy your stay here," he said.
Asked if the material in the envelope was sufficient to convict Daniloff on espionage charges, Gerasimov said the "materials he possessed fully showed his complicity in espionage activity. This is a classic type of situation, like in a bad spy movie."
Gerasimov repeated an earlier statement that Daniloff would "go to court," implying that a decision to try the correspondent had already been made. But he later said the judicial authorities would decide whether to put the reporter on trial when a police investigation is completed. Until then, he indicated, the correspondent will be held in a Moscow prison.
Daniloff, who is fluent in Russian, worked for United Press International here for several years in the 1960s and and returned to the Soviet Union in 1981 as the correspondent of U.S. News & World Report.
He was about to end his assignment and carry out a personal project--a book on a Russian ancestor who he said had taken part in the 1825 "Decembrist" uprising against the czar. His ancestor, Daniloff has told friends, spent 30 years in Siberian exile for his role in the abortive coup.