WASHINGTON — In another diplomatic surprise, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze is expected to come here Friday and Saturday for negotiations on a U.S.-Soviet summit meeting and the final points of a treaty on intermediate-range nuclear missiles, a U.S. official said Tuesday.
The visit, which could put U.S.-Soviet talks back on track after being derailed last week, is expected to be announced jointly here and in Moscow today, the official said.
Despite the new Soviet overture, there was no immediate sign that Moscow has softened its insistence on linking a summit to limits on the Strategic Defense Initiative, President Reagan's space-based missile defense program. A Soviet spokesman in Moscow said Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev would visit Washington when both sides agree, not only on a medium-range missile accord, but also on "some agreements of principle" dealing with long-range strategic missiles and on space defenses.
The Reagan Administration has refused to negotiate curbs on SDI work, but American arms negotiators had not thought it was an issue when Secretary of State George P. Shultz visited Moscow last week. Shultz' talks with Gorbachev and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze had been expected to yield final agreement on a treaty to eliminate intermediate-range missiles--those with ranges from 300 to 3,000 miles--and a date for a Washington summit.
The Kremlin, however, surprised the American side by renewing its previous linkage of SDI to the summit and missile pact. Shultz came away from his two-day visit without a summit date or even a hint as to when he would resume talks with Shevardnadze.
Asked just before his departure from Moscow about a "further meeting" between him and Shevardnadze, the secretary of state replied: "That remains to be seen . . . but I don't think there is anything in particular to meet about right away."
Nonetheless, the fact that the Soviets on Tuesday requested the invitation for Shevardnadze suggests that something has changed in the Kremlin's approach to the issues. Some U.S. officials expressed the view that the superpowers, despite their ups and downs, are still moving toward a summit this year.
Shultz appeared decidedly more optimistic Tuesday than he had been last Friday.
"An agreement on intermediate-range nuclear missiles is very close to being completed. We have made advances in a number of other areas," he told reporters after a closed meeting with members of Congress.
"So I think it makes sense to imagine that there will be continuing discussions in trying to button these things up," he added. "I think things are on a reasonably good track."
The Soviet Pattern
After being briefed by Shultz, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, described the on-again, off-again plans for a superpower summit as consistent with the Soviet pattern of negotiations. "They always go one-step backward and one and one-half step ahead," he said.
Pell added that the United States and the Soviet Union are very close to completing an agreement on intermediate-range missiles.
"In my mind," he said, Shultz "has come back with an agreement 98% complete."
When Shultz left Moscow last Friday, both sides said a missile agreement was within reach in two or three weeks. He said at the time that "the next thing . . . is keep checking the mailman" for the letter that Gorbachev said he would write to Reagan about arms control.
U.S. Ambassador Jack F. Matlock Jr. was summoned to the Soviet Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, meeting at least once with Shevardnadze. He was not given any letter from Gorbachev, and, if any is forthcoming, it will probably be carried by Shevardnadze, officials here said.
News of the prospective Shevardnadze visit came amid statements by Soviet officials in Moscow and the United Nations that indicated continuing Soviet interest in a summit and in the intermediate-range missile accord.
"We still cannot say exactly when that will be done, but it is already clear that it will be prepared in the near future for signature at summit level, as had been agreed between the leaders of our two countries," Boris D. Pyadyshev, first deputy chief of the information department of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, told reporters.
The Soviet leadership apparently was upset by American press interpretation of Gorbachev's refusal to set a date as a setback in Soviet-American relations and a one-sided raising of the stakes for a summit conference.
The two-day Moscow talks, including the Shultz-Gorbachev session that lasted more than four hours, advanced the negotiating process, Pyadyshev said.
"A brief timeout has been taken now to think over the new ideas put forward by the Soviet leadership and to work out the issues which remain unsolved," he added.