MOSCOW — Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev refused to set a date for a summit meeting with President Reagan when Secretary of State George P. Shultz balked at Moscow's renewed demand for sharp restrictions on the U.S. "Star Wars" space-based missile defense program, Shultz said Friday.
Shultz, looking weary after two days of intensive negotiations which included a 4 1/2-hour face-to-face session with Gorbachev at the Kremlin, quoted the Soviet leader as saying he "did not feel comfortable" coming to Washington as long as there was an unsettled dispute over missile defense programs, specifically the Administration's Strategic Defense Initiative, as the "Star Wars" program is formally titled.
The snag over SDI and the summit appeared to put on hold a treaty to eliminate all intermediate-range nuclear missiles, those with ranges between 300 to 3,000 miles.
'Virtually Wrapped Up'
As recently as Thursday, spokesmen for both Shultz and his Soviet counterpart, Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, were saying that the treaty would be completed Friday. But while the two foreign ministers agreed Friday that details of the treaty were "virtually wrapped up," without a summit there is no forum for a treaty to be signed.
"The issue appears to be whether Gorbachev wants to come to the United States for a summit," presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, expressing general White House exasperation. "He has thrown up the SDI roadblock, and we have to wonder if there isn't some other fear that causes him to raise a false issue. It raises a lot of hard questions about his intentions and purpose."
Shevardnadze later told a news conference that Gorbachev was still willing to hold a summit with Reagan this year if progress were made on reducing strategic, or long-range, missiles and on space defense issues.
Gorbachev also plans to write to Reagan outlining his latest position, Shevardnadze added. Earlier, Shultz referred to that, saying with a trace of sarcasm that the American side would be waiting for the postman to deliver it.
Serious Problems Feared
U.S. officials voiced fears that Gorbachev's decision to renew his emphasis on SDI could lead to serious problems. Fitzwater, citing the long-stated U.S. refusal to put its "Star Wars" initiative on the bargaining table at the Geneva arms control negotiations, said: "There's no issue they know our position better on than SDI."
In an interview with European reporters Friday, President Reagan remained adamantly opposed to making any concessions on "Star Wars." Reiterating the stand he took at his press conference Thursday night, he said that "I cannot make that a bargaining chip."
Nevertheless, Reagan refused publicly to give up hope for a summit, saying the Soviets "have said they want . . such a thing and agreed to it and to be held here in this country, but so far have not set a date. So, I'll remain hopeful that we can have it."
However, the failure to name a specific time for the summit strongly indicated there would not be a third Reagan-Gorbachev meeting this year, Western diplomats said.
"On the central problem, we did not achieve any serious progress," Shevardnadze acknowledged, adding that conflicting views on what research into space defense is allowed by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty were at the heart of the impasse.
Smiling and Joking
Still, Shevardnadze tried to strike an optimistic note at his news conference, smiling and occasionally joking with his questioners. But his top aides wore glum expressions, and he was peppered with questions about why his mid-September agreement with Shultz to name a summit date in Moscow was not being kept.
When Shultz and Shevardnadze met in Washington last month they agreed that Reagan and Gorbachev would hold their third summit meeting sometime this fall and that the date would be set this week in Moscow.
Shultz, plainly disappointed at the outcome of his two-day Moscow visit, flew to Brussels where he plans to brief representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on the latest developments.
"We in the United States--the President--feel very strongly that we must do everything we can to see if we can learn to defend ourselves against ballistic missiles," Shultz said.
A senior U.S. official, asked later if the Soviets were linking a summit to restrictions on SDI, replied, "At the moment--at the moment."
Demand for Guarantee
Talking to reporters during the flight to Brussels, Shultz said Gorbachev demanded a guarantee that a summit meeting would produce an agreement in principle on space defense systems.
When Shultz said there could be no such guarantee, Gorbachev said there would be no summit, at least not now.
Shultz said Gorbachev asked him what he thought would happen at a summit and he replied by outlining the "components" of such a meeting as he saw them.