WASHINGTON — A delegation of U.S. space officials, headed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Lew Allen Jr., held two days of secret talks with Soviet space scientists earlier this month on the possibility of renewed cooperation between the countries' civilian space programs, it was disclosed Monday.
The talks took place at the height of the controversy over the arrest of American reporter Nicholas Daniloff. The space officials met at the Soviet Academy of Sciences on the same day that Daniloff was transferred from a Moscow prison to the custody of the U.S. ambassador.
Administration officials, confirming the trip by the 10-man delegation, refused to discuss any details of the meetings or the circumstances that brought them about.
However, the timing of the meetings and the fact that they went ahead despite the Daniloff controversy suggested that they were held as a potential preliminary step to discussions at an expected second summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
A Summit Signing?
In recent weeks, the Soviets have given strong indications that they have dropped their objections to a new space cooperation agreement, raising the possibility that it will be signed at a summit meeting. Administration sources said the Moscow talks apparently were arranged to address scientific details that would have to be settled before a diplomatic agreement could be written.
Burton E. Edelson, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's associate administrator for space science and applications, said the meetings were not specifically designed to prepare for a summit agreement but to "attempt to pin down certain areas where we both have interest in cooperation if the subject did come up."
Shirley Green, NASA's chief of public affairs, said the subjects addressed included the life sciences, astronomy, astrophysics and solar and terrestrial sciences. The meetings, she said, were considered a step in a process of "restoring dialogue in civil space cooperation."
The highlight of U.S.-Soviet cooperation in space occurred more than a decade ago when a U.S. Apollo spacecraft docked in orbit with a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft, allowing the astronauts to visit each other's crew compartments.
Four years after that historic event, the agreement that had produced it was allowed to lapse because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Last year, before the first Reagan-Gorbachev meeting, the United States expressed interest in a new agreement, but the Soviets rejected it on grounds that U.S. research on space defense projects violated the spirit of peaceful cooperation.
But more recently, Raold Z. Sagdeev, director of the space research institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, has indicated that the Soviet government no longer insists that U.S. research on its so-called "Star Wars" defense program be halted before cooperation resumes in space science projects.