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Summit Meeting Seen as Boost for Gorbachev

September 20, 1987|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev has bolstered his international reputation by putting Moscow's blessing on another summit meeting with President Reagan to sign a treaty that would eliminate intermediate nuclear forces.

The announcement from Washington, although given low-key treatment in the Soviet media, also was sure to help Gorbachev through a troubled period on the home front.

Soviet officials, for example, have called for "emergency measures" to bring in this year's harvest, including mobilization of city dwellers to prevent losses of part of the better-than-average crop.

Gorbachev's program for radical changes in economic and social life have also encountered resistance, and some members of the ruling Politburo have expressed concern about press disclosures of unpleasant periods of Soviet history.

Demonstrations of nationalist sentiment in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also raised sensitive questions about whether the policy of glasnost, or public candor, on long-taboo issues, had gone too far.

So the announcement of an important breakthrough in U.S.-Soviet arms controls talks was a clear triumph for the Kremlin leader in foreign or domestic policy.

In addition, Western diplomats said, the Kremlin apparently wants to reduce the economic burden of defense spending, and the agreement in principle to abolish medium- and shorter-range weapons is a good first step down that road.

"By itself, it's not such a big savings, but it could open the door for other agreements that would be," said a senior Western diplomat who asked that he not be further identified.

"It's a substantial political victory for the Soviet leadership in their own press at a time when they are asking people to make changes that are often upsetting," the diplomat added.

On the down side, however, any agreement to scrap Soviet missiles already in place will cause some resentment among military commanders in the Soviet Union, just as some Pentagon generals may be upset by an accord on mid-range missiles.

The coming summit was given matter-of-fact coverage in the Soviet press without extra fanfare. On the television news, the announcement came fifth, and a report on the harvest led off the program.

Gorbachev, who has been out of the spotlight since the first week in August, was reported still on vacation at the end of last week.

An article written by him, however, expressed optimism that a treaty with the United States on elimination of intermediate nuclear forces--missiles with a range between 300 and 3,000 miles--would be signed by the end of the year.

No Word on Summit

While there has been no official word on the date of a summit, Soviet sources said they doubt it could occur before late November.

A session of the Supreme Soviet, the nominal parliament, has been scheduled for Oct. 19, and the Kremlin leader will play a major role in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Bolsehvik Revolution on Nov. 7.

Since Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze are scheduled to meet in Moscow next month to work out arrangements for the summit, it appears unlikely to be scheduled before Nov. 15, at the earliest.

Gorbachev scored a victory of sorts by insisting that an arms accord must be ready for approval before he would go to the United States, despite an implied promise to visit Washington last year.

The dramatic summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, last October--regarded as a failure immediately after it ended without agreement--planted the seeds for elimination of medium-range missiles.

Now, assuming that the third face-to-face meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev goes well, a visit by the outgoing American President to the Soviet Union may be arranged in 1988, American diplomats said.

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