MOSCOW — American reporter Nicholas Daniloff was released to the U.S. Embassy here, and an accused Soviet spy was turned over to Soviet diplomats in New York on Friday under an arrangement that eases--but does not end--a major standoff between the superpowers.
Daniloff, the first American correspondent imprisoned in the Soviet Union in 40 years, and accused Soviet spy Gennady F. Zakharov cannot return to their homelands, and still face the prospect of espionage trials under the deal worked out by U.S. and Soviet diplomats and approved at the highest levels of both governments.
"I'm not a free man today, but I've changed one hotel for a much better hotel," Daniloff, 52, the Moscow correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, declared as he left Moscow's Lefortovo prison in a U.S. Embassy limousine flying an American flag. Daniloff was placed in the custody of U. S. Ambassador Arthur A. Hartman, but is free to return to the Moscow apartment he and his family inhabited for 5 1/2 years. However, he must report to the KGB by telephone daily.
Zakharov, 39, a physicist employed by the United Nations who was accused of buying classified jet engine blueprints from an FBI informant, was placed in the custody of the Soviet ambassador to Washington, Yuri V. Dubinin. Indicted earlier this week on three counts of espionage, Zakharov, who lived with his family in the Bronx, must remain in the New York area until his trial.
In Washington, Secretary of State George P. Shultz called the release of Daniloff and Zakharov to their respective ambassadors "an interim step" that the Administration agreed to take primarily out of humanitarian concern for Daniloff. Shultz insisted that the twin releases were not a trade and that "the only thing that has changed is the location of these two people."
Shultz appeared in a packed White House briefing room to announce the development and to defend the Reagan Administration against charges that it had given in to Soviet demands that Daniloff and Zakharov be treated identically.
"There is no equivalency," Shultz said. "We have had in mind the situation of Mr. Daniloff in a prison cell, and we think he's a lot better off with his friends and his wife than he is in that cell."
President Reagan, meeting with elementary school principals in the Rose Garden, referred to Daniloff as "our hostage in Moscow" and to Zakharov as "the Soviet spy." He added that he was "relieved and happy" that the American journalist--who suffers from high blood pressure--was "out of that 8-by-10-foot cell . . . and won't be subjected to four hours of interrogation every day."
Problem of Leaving Moscow
The Administration, which has insisted that Daniloff was arrested Aug. 30 only in retaliation for the arrest the week before of Zakharov, now faces the problem of getting Daniloff out of Moscow. Shultz and other officials have vowed to raise the issue in every forum, but it is far from clear whether the Soviets will let Daniloff leave without standing trial.
Shultz told reporters that the conditions of Daniloff's release included a U.S. commitment that, if the newsman is asked to appear in court, he will do so--the same guarantee that the Soviets gave with regard to Zakharov.
When asked why this interim step could not be considered a trade, Shultz called it "an arrangement" that was made with the Soviet Union "because we feel for Mr. Daniloff, and we think that he's better off where he's going to be than where he has been. However, the basic situation has not changed."
Shultz added that the Administration had consulted with Daniloff before agreeing to the arrangement and that "it was not undertaken without his assent."
Shultz said that he planned to go ahead with a meeting Sept. 19-20 in New York with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze to prepare for a summit between Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Reagan.
Would Dominate Agenda
If the Daniloff case has not been resolved by then, he promised it would dominate the agenda. "We feel that it's important to keep registering our point of view, not to walk away and stop talking about it," he said.
Shultz also gave his blessing to the attendance by several top U.S. officials, including representatives of the Pentagon and the National Security Council, and influential private citizens at a cultural exchange next week in Riga, Latvia, explaining that it was another opportunity for Americans to get across their point of view "and why we consider this (case) so outrageous and damaging."
Shultz warned that the Reagan-Gorbachev summit would be jeopardized if Daniloff is detained much longer.
The diplomatic agreement that led to the release of the two men was actually suggested by Daniloff, who had urged the importance of a "cooling-off period" in the increasingly hot exchanges between Washington and Moscow over his fate.