WASHINGTON — The United States and the Soviet Union, ending a dispute over spying charges that threatened to paralyze their relations, today issued simultaneous surprise announcements that President Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev will meet in Iceland in 12 days.
The dramatic development in superpower relations occurred as details were disclosed of deals to release Soviet physicist Gennady F. Zakharov from the United States, where he faced spy charges, and for the Soviet Union to free imprisoned human rights leader Yuri Orlov.
On Monday, Moscow let go American reporter Nicholas Daniloff, whose detention on espionage charges had been portrayed by the United States as the major barrier to another Reagan-Gorbachev meeting.
Both superpowers took pains today to deny that the meeting in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik was the long-awaited second summit scheduled by Reagan and Gorbachev when they first met in Geneva last November.
Reagan, making an unannounced appearance before White House reporters summoned to discuss the Daniloff release, said, "I am pleased to announce that General Secretary Gorbachev and I will meet Oct. 11 and 12 in Reykjavik."
The smiling President said the meeting will take place as part of "preparations for the general secretary's visit to the United States."
Official Moscow radio used virtually identical wording, adding that the meeting was Gorbachev's idea.
Neither side announced a date for the summit in the United States, but Secretary of State George P. Shultz told White House reporters that he believed that the next "genuine" summit would be in the United States by the end of the year and the third in the Soviet Union in 1987 as originally planned.
"There is no suggestion that this meeting in Iceland is a substitute for the summit. Quite the contrary, it is a preparatory meeting," Shultz said.
"I think it is very clear that they believe as we do that the next genuine summit will be in the U.S. and the next one in the Soviet Union," he said.
'Little Less Formal'
"The general secretary suggested to the President that it would help in this effort that the two men meet in a little less formal setting than a summit and try and push the ball along a little bit," Shultz added.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze told a New York news conference today that the meeting will not replace Gorbachev's trip to the United States.
He said the purpose is to "make a direct assessment of the situation and work out some clear instructions designed to achieve progress in some questions relating to nuclear arms--progress sufficient for attaining substantial results."
Asked today whether arms control is on the Reykjavik agenda, Reagan said: "I have no way of knowing. There is no way of knowing."
There was no explanation from the U.S. side as to why Iceland, a tiny NATO member, was chosen. Reagan merely said both superpowers appreciated the willingness of the Icelandic government to make the meeting possible.
Last Year's Proposal
Gorbachev earlier last year had proposed that he meet Reagan in Europe ahead of the scheduled U.S. summit especially to discuss a nuclear test ban and other arms control measures.
The United States had long resisted Gorbachev's original proposal, saying it saw no reason for a special meeting when a proper summit was scheduled.
According to Shultz's account, Gorbachev modified his plan in a letter brought to Washington by Shevardnadze two weeks ago that merely described the meeting in general terms and did not pin it specifically to arms control issues.
Pressed by reporters to explain why the United States had agreed to such a meeting, he retorted: "As we thought about it, it seemed like a sensible idea. So why not?"