MOSCOW — American reporter Nicholas Daniloff proposed Wednesday that he and a Soviet citizen also charged with spying be released to their respective ambassadors to provide a "cooling-off period" in the mounting controversy that would allow diplomats to work out a solution.
In a closely monitored, 15-minute telephone call from Lefortovo prison to his Moscow office, Daniloff told his wife, Ruth, that his KGB interrogators have endorsed the proposal, which would have him turned over to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Arthur A. Hartman.
If Soviet and U.S. officials agreed to go along with the idea, Gennady F. Zakharov, a Soviet physicist and U.N. employee arrested in New York last month, would be handed over to Soviet Ambassador Yuri V. Dubinin in Washington.
Charges against both men would stand, however, and both would go to trial unless some other arrangement could be worked out by their governments, according to the plan Daniloff laid out.
Daniloff, who has been held for 11 days, said he felt that such a step would relieve the increasing tension between Moscow and Washington and allow preparations to proceed on schedule for a summit later this year between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, his colleagues at the U.S. News & World Report office here reported.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb declined to comment on Daniloff's proposal but reiterated, "The United States is doing everything possible both here and in Moscow to bring about the swift release of Nick Daniloff."
Shortly after Zakharov was arrested at a New York subway station on Aug. 23, the Soviets proposed that he be released to the custody of Ambassador Dubinin. However, the magistrate at the U.S. District Court refused. The arrest of Daniloff in Moscow came after that of Zakharov, on Aug. 30.
On Sept. 3, the Reagan Administration confirmed that it had proposed to the Kremlin that Zakharov be temporarily released to the ambassador's custody in exchange for the outright release of Daniloff. Under that offer, the accused Russian would still be required to stand trial in New York. There has apparently been no Moscow response to the U.S. proposal.
Daniloff said he would not characterize his plan as a "swap," but as an interim measure to allow diplomats to work out "something better" with less outside pressure.
It's Not Enjoyable
"I do not enjoy being here," Jeff Trimble, a colleague who is scheduled to replace Daniloff as the news magazine's Moscow correspondent, quoted Daniloff as saying.
"There has to be a cooling of the rhetoric," Daniloff said. "There is no need for a swap. It will be up to clever, intelligent diplomats to work out something better. Let us first get ourselves into a more comfortable spot, say, living in Spaso House, and then go from there."
Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, has several guest rooms.
Daniloff has never mentioned the name of Zakharov, a Soviet employee of the United Nations who was indicted Tuesday on three counts of espionage. But Trimble said there was no mistaking his allusion to "another case that we all know about."
According to Trimble, Daniloff said that officials of the KGB, the Soviet secret police and intelligence agency, told him in the course of his Wednesday interrogation period that they are in accord with his idea that he and Zakharov should be turned over to their respective ambassadors.
He said Daniloff quoted one interrogator as saying: "We agree with you. We think it's time for the rhetoric to be cooled somehow."
There is a precedent for the procedure suggested by Daniloff. In 1978, after two Soviet employees of the United Nations were arrested in New Jersey and charged with spying, an American businessman was arrested in Moscow and charged with violating Soviet currency laws.
Within a month of the arrests, the two Soviets, Rudolf Chernyayev and Valdik Enger, were released to the Soviet ambassador in Washington and the American, Francis Jay Crawford, a representative of International Harvester, was turned over to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow.
All three were put on trial, convicted and sentenced to prison. But Crawford's five-year sentence was suspended and he was allowed to return home. The imprisoned Soviets were released the next year in exchange for the freedom of five Soviet dissidents.
Daniloff's suggestion came on the heels of growing American condemnation of his arrest and after a federal grand jury in Brooklyn, N.Y., indicted Zakharov on charges that could result in imprisonment for life.
Soviet Media Attacks
The Soviet news media, meanwhile, have come down heavily on Daniloff as an agent of the CIA who sought and obtained military information under the cover of his work as a reporter.
There have been articles suggesting that the CIA has close ties to American reporters in Moscow and elsewhere, and that the CIA has infiltrated the American news Establishment on a broad front.