WASHINGTON — Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze arrives in the United States today for talks with Secretary of State George P. Shultz that could become a dress rehearsal for a summit conference this fall between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
A U.S. official, who declined to be identified by name, said that Shevardnadze is expected to bring a letter from Gorbachev accepting Reagan's invitation--extended at their first meeting in Geneva in 1985--to visit the United States. Gorbachev, this official said, is likely to propose a specific date, probably in late November.
Rozanne L. Ridgway, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, said Friday that no dates have been discussed with the Soviets. Speaking to reporters, she added that Shultz and Shevardnadze might agree this week on plans for a summit meeting.
Moscow, she said, has agreed to a four-point agenda for the Shultz-Shevardnadze meeting--arms control, human rights, regional issues and bilateral issues. These are the same issues the United States expects to cover at the summit meeting.
Public attention will focus on arms control. U.S. and Soviet negotiators in Geneva have wrapped up most of the details of a proposed treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Max M. Kampelman, the chief U.S. delegate to the Geneva arms control talks, has said that none of the remaining issues could be "justifiably called tough." He added that Shultz and Shevardnadze could resolve most of the remaining issues this week.
Kenneth L. Adelman, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, said last week that he is confident that a treaty imposing a worldwide prohibition on missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,000 miles will be ready for Reagan and Gorbachev to sign at a summit meeting, which he said he expects before the end of November.
After a day of rest Monday to overcome the effects of jet lag, Shevardnadze will meet Reagan briefly Tuesday and then begin three days of intensive talks with Shultz, Ridgway said.
At the same time, she said, U.S. and Soviet experts will meet separately to thrash out each of the four issues on the agenda. She said that Washington considers human rights, regional matters and bilateral issues to be of equal importance with arms control.
If this week's meetings between the foreign ministers go the way Washington wants them to go, there will be no surprises left when Reagan and Gorbachev finally get together. If Shultz and Shevardnadze do not complete their work this week, they are expected to meet again next week in New York, where both plan to attend the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly.
Such care was not taken last year before the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland. U.S. officials agree that Reagan made some serious miscalculations when he and Gorbachev engaged in substantive give-and-take talks on arms control.
The two leaders agreed in principle to an ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear missiles or perhaps even all nuclear weapons. But they stopped short of writing their accord into a treaty because Reagan would not accept Gorbachev's demand that the United States limit the "Star Wars" missile defense plan to laboratory research.
Many U.S. allies were relieved by the deadlock. As appealing as the prospect of a world totally without nuclear weapons might be, it would put the Western allies at a strategic disadvantage because of the superiority of the Soviet Union and its allies in conventional weaponry, U.S. and allied officials said later.
Could Not Agree
After the Iceland meeting, the two sides could not even agree on whether Reagan and Gorbachev had fixed a goal of eliminating all nuclear missiles, as Washington said, or all nuclear weapons, as Moscow said.
In the preparatory talks this week for the next summit meeting, U.S. officials admit that they do not know if the Soviets will lay all their cards on the table. Gorbachev may want to spring a fresh surprise when he gets to Washington. But the American side will try to discourage him from doing so.
Adelman, who will leave his post as director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency after the summit meeting, said recently that it is "a terrible idea" for heads of state to engage in substantive bargaining on arms control.
"I think that once you make your President your chief arms control negotiator, you've given up a great deal," Adelman said. "First of all, a lot of this is very technical and Presidents generally don't know it very well. Secondly, any time a President becomes the chief negotiator, he does not have the tools that a chief negotiator has to do a good job."
If one side presents something new in normal arms control talks, Adelman said, a negotiator can always play for time by saying that he must "check with the home office." This allows for a thorough analysis of the new proposal.
"A President can't do that," Adelman said, "because he is the home office."