WASHINGTON — Secretary of State George P. Shultz met with the Soviet ambassador today as the Reagan Administration put a lid on public discussion of prospects for the release of American journalist Nicholas Daniloff.
Shultz met with Yuri V. Dubinin, Soviet ambassador to the United States, for the second time in less than 24 hours.
One official said their topic most certainly was Daniloff, whose arrest and imprisonment by the Soviet KGB has created a superpower brouhaha, jeopardizing a summit planned late this year between President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
When asked about the high-level meeting, presidential spokesman Larry Speakes told White House reporters tersely that he had nothing to report.
'A Tight Lid'
One official, who demanded anonymity, told a reporter: "There's a tight lid on this. You're just not going to get much more right now."
The meetings between Shultz and Dubinin came as U.S. officials were said to be "vigorously pursuing" renewed diplomatic efforts to gain Daniloff's release from a Soviet prison. The Soviets have accused Daniloff of spying.
Speakes reiterated today that "we're working hard to secure Nick Daniloff's release."
But the spokesman refused to be more specific, saying Reagan believes confidential negotiations offer the best chance of a successful conclusion to the diplomatic crisis ignited by the arrest Aug. 30 of the Moscow correspondent for U.S. News & World Report.
Reagan Confirms Message
But Reagan himself confirmed late Wednesday he had received a message from Soviet leader Gorbachev responding to the President's appeal for Daniloff's release. Reagan's letter offered his personal assurances that Daniloff is not a spy, as the Soviets have charged.
One U.S. official, who refused to be identified by name, said the Gorbachev response and a visit to the State Department Wednesday evening by Dubinin suggested that the Kremlin was willing to try to settle the Daniloff case, and that spurred a new, optimistic tone among American officials working on the matter.
Earlier, U.S. officials expressed optimism that the Soviets might soon agree to release Daniloff from the Moscow prison where he is being held.
One White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted there has been "no change in policy" to reject a straight swap of Daniloff for Soviet physicist Gennady F. Zakharov, who is jailed in New York on espionage charges.
But the official would not rule out the possibility that Daniloff might be released to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Arthur A. Hartman, and that Zakharov could be turned over to Dubinin.