WASHINGTON — President Reagan, seeking to minimize the collapse in negotiations for a superpower summit conference, said Monday that if Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev is playing games with U.S.-Soviet relations, "he's playing solitaire."
The President, conferring with Secretary of State George P. Shultz for the second time in two days since the secretary's Moscow mission ended without a summit date, refused to give up hope for a superpower meeting.
"A summit still has not been foreclosed," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, though prospects for such a session remain cloudy.
"The invitation was made to the Soviets to have a summit here, and it was accepted in the sense of coming to the United States for a meeting when and if it would be scheduled," Fitzwater said. "Our attitude is that the invitation has been offered, it has been generally accepted for the United States, and we believe this is where it should be."
Shultz's trip to Moscow last Thursday and Friday was intended, among other things, to complete negotiations on an agreement to eliminate the superpowers' arsenals of intermediate-range nuclear weapons and to set a date for a Gorbachev trip to the United States at which such a pact would be signed.
But Gorbachev refused to set a date for a meeting with Reagan when Shultz would not accede to the Soviet leader's demand that sharp restrictions be placed on the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Administration's effort to develop a space-based missile defense system.
In Moscow, however, Soviet officials complained Monday that the problem lies with U.S. negotiators, according to the Reuters news agency.
"The Americans keep saying we are trying to kill SDI," said one Soviet official. "Of course we don't like it, but we know it's not going to go away while Reagan remains in the White House. So we have been trying to see how we can accommodate it. But the United States won't even discuss it."
Summit Still Possible
A summit is still possible this year once Washington is ready to discuss its "Star Wars" program, the officials said.
"It could still be pulled off this year if they really want it," another Soviet official said. "But it won't happen if they keep saying 'no, no, no' to all our proposals to get things moving."
In the wake of the disappointment that followed the breakdown of the talks last week, Reagan Administration officials have been careful not to say anything that would make it more difficult to revive the efforts to arrange a meeting with Gorbachev.
"We don't want to paint him into a corner," a White House official said of the Soviet leader. "We'd still like to sign an agreement, and we'd like to do it at the summit. We don't want to do anything to throw up any extra obstacles."
He said the Administration also found it "a little bit baffling that they went through this motion of signing on to a summit and then tried to relink SDI to it." The official added: "Unless there's something else there, it's obvious gamesmanship."
Reagan, asked during a photo session at the start of a budget meeting with congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room whether Gorbachev was "playing games" with summitry, replied, "If he is, he's playing solitaire."
Fitzwater, reflecting the low-key attitude that the Administration is trying to project on the summit issue, said an arms control agreement--and not a superpower meeting--is the first priority of the White House.
"If a summit occurs to sign it, fine. If it doesn't, fine," he said.
Fitzwater, echoing concerns raised Sunday by Shultz, said no deadline would be set for a Gorbachev visit but added that the 1988 presidential campaign "certainly seems like a reasonable set of pressures" that both the Soviet leader and the White House would want to avoid.
Time Limits on Summit
The President "feels that there probably are some limits to how long we want to wait on a summit," the spokesman said.
In Brussels, Reuters reported, Lord Carrington, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said that the progress last week on scrapping U.S.-Soviet intermediate nuclear forces (INF) was what really mattered and that he was not concerned about lack of progress toward a summit.
"I think that what concerned us is that there was a good deal of progress about the INF agreement," he said in an interview with NBC's "Today" program. "I think that is what we were all looking for.
"I think we've always felt that the summit was something which was more between you (the United States) and the Soviet Union," he said. "So, you know, I think we're disappointed that there wasn't an impetus but I don't think anybody took it all that seriously."