In an abrupt and dramatic reversal that took even his own embarrassed foreign minister by surprise, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev said his country accepts President Bush's proposals for new troop ceilings in Europe that would give U.S. forces a 30,000-man advantage. With that decisive concession, Gorbachev has swept aside an important barrier to concluding the long-sought conventional forces treaty for Europe. Differences over how big an arsenal each side can have still must be resolved. But it's clear that Gorbachev has made the basic political decision to reach an agreement before year's end.
With his change of mind, Gorbachev has boldly cast away the decades-old shibboleth in East-West negotiations that demanded parity of forces. Under the new agreement, the United States and the Soviet Union will each cut their forces in Central Europe to no more than 195,000 men. The United States, though, would be allowed to base up to 30,000 additional troops in such peripheral countries as Britain, Spain, Italy and Turkey. This asymmetry is intended in part to underscore the political point that U.S. forces are in Europe by invitation, not--like Soviet troops--as an occupying army.