MOSCOW — Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze will confer here later this month to pave the way for another summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, it was announced Monday.
It will be the first in a series of talks between Shultz and Shevardnadze in advance of Reagan's first visit to the Soviet Union for his fourth conference with Gorbachev.
The Feb. 21-23 meeting will focus on prospects for a 50% reduction in strategic nuclear weapons by the time the two leaders meet, probably in the last week of May or first week in June.
During their summit in Washington last December, Reagan and Gorbachev signed a treaty to eliminate ground-launched intermediate nuclear forces (INF), but both sides have said an agreement on halving the number of the most powerful nuclear weapons will be more difficult to achieve.
'A 50-50 Chance'
A senior Western diplomat familiar with the U.S.-Soviet arms control talks has said that he feels there is "a 50-50 chance--maybe a little better" that an agreement could be ready by the time of the summit meeting.
Speaking on condition that he not be identified, the diplomat said there is agreement already "on most matters of principle" in the strategic arms negotiations in Geneva. "But there is still a lot of hard bargaining ahead," he added.
Shultz also wants to probe Soviet intentions to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and discuss human rights issues during the three-day meeting with Shevardnadze, a U.S. official said.
Gennady I. Gerasimov, chief spokesman for the Soviet Foreign Ministry, said the two men also will discuss ways to carry out the intermediate nuclear forces treaty and other accords reached in Washington.
Their aim is to "create conditions for Reagan's forthcoming visit to Moscow to end with a concrete result," Gerasimov added.
Shultz's trip will occur at a time when U.S.-Soviet relations have become warmer in the wake of Gorbachev's visit to the United States and the conclusion of the INF treaty.
"It's a better time but the problems are still very large," one Western diplomat said. "The war in Afghanistan continues to be a major burden on the relationship."
Shevardnadze, in an unusual exchange with American correspondents at a recent social event, said he is a "confirmed optimist" about a peace settlement and withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, "give or take a month or two."
American officials have said, however, that any Soviet troop pullout must be accomplished in a way that makes it plain that they will not be reintroduced.
Shultz and Shevardnadze have developed a close rapport in a series of negotiations on the INF treaty and other issues over the past 2 1/2 years.
By wrapping up a treaty agreement well in advance of the December summit in Washington, they left nothing for Reagan and Gorbachev to do except affix their signatures to the document.
Officials on both sides now believe that nothing can interfere with the Moscow summit, which was arranged without requirement of a treaty signing.
"I can't foresee anything that will derail it," said a Western diplomat.