A bargain of some sort has been struck that may serve to eliminate the case of American journalist Nicholas Daniloff as a roadblock on the path to a summit meeting between President Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Daniloff, who was framed by a Soviet acquaintance or the KGB or both, is out of a Moscow prison but not out of danger. Gennady F. Zhakarov, who is accused of using his United Nations office in New York to run a small spy network, is in the custody of his government--as free as any Soviet citizen gets.
This is not the outcome hoped for. It is better for Daniloff than continuing in a prison cell. But he is still a hostage, and as such remains a critical obstacle to improving Soviet-American relations and to cooling the arms race--with or without a summit.
The Daniloff-Zhakarov arrangement is a temporary expedient, not a solution. The frustration and exasperation of the negotiations that have produced so little illustrate the terrible complexity of moving ahead on the matters of broader substance on arms control, human rights and other issues that divide the United States and the Soviet Union.
There is no evidence as to what this agreement may mean as a measure of the situation in the Kremlin. Speculation continues about Gorbachev's grip on power and his ability to negotiate compromise agreements should a summit meeting take place. But these events have exposed a muddling among American policy-makers that also casts a shadow over the potential for new agreements.
The chief loser for the time being is Daniloff. He is a respected journalist who remains entrapped in a spy-swap conspiracy not of his making. The failure to free him from the Soviet Union dims the prospects for productive negotiations.