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Arms Talks Progress Seen Despite Daniloff Case

September 20, 1986|ELEANOR CLIFT | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Despite their differences over the detention of American journalist Nicholas Daniloff, the United States and the Soviet Union are making progress in a number of areas related to arms control, Administration officials confirmed Friday.

The latest evidence is a Soviet proposal advanced in Geneva, where arms control talks resumed Thursday, that would permit only a token missile force to be stationed in Europe. The two sides have been jockeying over numerical limits for medium-range missile warheads for months, with the United States resisting earlier Soviet proposals that would have eliminated all such superpower missiles from European soil.

"Our respective positions on numbers are getting closer and closer," a U.S. official said, adding that the Administration is prepared to accept virtually any number above zero as long as it is a reduction. The United States is reluctant to endorse a total ban because Western allied nations regard the missiles as a symbol of American commitment to the defense of Europe.

"Progress on arms control has been obscured by the political tensions over Daniloff," a White House official said. "While we've made it clear the Daniloff matter is impinging on U.S.-Soviet relations, that's not to say we're not going to do business--we are."

Before Daniloff dominated the dialogue, U.S. officials talked optimistically of reaching an accord on a new strategic arms agreement, on an intermediate-range missile agreement and on so-called "risk-reduction centers" in both countries that would lessen the risk of an accidental nuclear war. Despite the heated rhetoric over Daniloff, progress on all these fronts is apparently continuing.

"Our positions on numbers and types and ceilings are getting close to convergence--the things that would constitute a framework," the U.S. official said. "We're getting the ball down the alley."

President Reagan is being pressured by conservatives to suspend business as usual with the Soviet Union in retaliation for Moscow's treatment of Daniloff. But Reagan so far has been unwilling to directly link the Daniloff matter to progress in arms control or to make the journalist's release a precondition for a summit this year.

"Anyone who tries to characterize Daniloff vis-a-vis arms control is going to find himself in a political thicket," an Administration official said. "Daniloff remains a problem, a very serious problem, . . . but the signs of hope are there (in arms control)."

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