The white-haired novice diplomat appeared to be dazzled by the battery of photographers and television crews awaiting him in Finland’s capital city. Making his first appearance on the international stage last week—at ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the Helsinki Accords on human rights and security — Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze indicated that he was still somewhat ill at ease in his powerful new job. Shevardnadze stumbled during his speech, his Georgian regional accent occasionally confusing the Russian words. Still, he managed to smile for the cameras and he impressed many diplomats with a relaxed style reminiscent of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Observed one European diplomat who watched the unknown Georgian’s first international performance: “If Shevardnadze is going to be Mr.
Nice Guy, it could be a lot less nerve-racking going in for talks with the Soviets and maybe even a bit more productive.”
Indeed, last week’s meeting of 35 foreign ministers from both East and West provided important signals of what direction superpower relations will likely take under Gorbachev’s dynamic style of rule. The high point was a three-hour meeting between Shevardnadze and American Secretary of State George Shultz in the U.S. Embassy. The two men met for the first time to lay the groundwork for a proposed summit between Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan, scheduled for Nov. 19-20. Both sides described the Helsinki meeting between Shultz, 64, and his 57-year-old Soviet counterpart, who succeeded veteran Andrei Gromyko, 76, on July 2, as an important step in building a personal rapport. The two men ended their meeting with agreement on a minimum agenda for the November summit in Geneva—the first top-level superpower meeting in six years. Later they spoke to reporters in cautiously optimistic tones.
Shevardnadze said that the summit “should result in relaxation of the current dangerous tension in the world.” For his part, Shultz said that his initial meeting with Shevardnadze had been “a good first step” toward the summit.
Both men avoided detailed discussions on improving East-West relations.
Moscow and Washington launched carefully constructed propaganda campaigns designed to impress public opinion before the autumn resumption of the next round of nuclear and space-based arms limitation talks in Geneva. First, Gorbachev called for a mutual freeze on nuclear testing for five months, beginning on Aug. 6—the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. But Washington swiftly dismissed Moscow’s offer because officials said that it did not contain any provision for verification of the test freeze. Kenneth Adelman, director of the U.S.
Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, asked “why it is in Soviet histo-
ry they have never allowed adequate verification so that we can tell if an arms control regime is really respected. ” Then, Reagan extended an invitation for Soviet observers to witness and verify an American underground nuclear test in Nevada. Moscow immediately condemned the proposal as a diversion from the real issue of disarmament.
Most analysts said that Moscow won the first round in the battle for international opinion. They said that Gorbachev’s call for a test freeze could create new divisions among Washington’s Western allies. Indeed, U.S. officials say they are now concerned that Reagan will face increasing pressure from allies and Western peace activists to make concessions when both superpowers reconvene weapons talks. Said William Hyland, a former U.S. arms control official: “The propaganda advantage is now Gorbachev’s.”
Both Shultz and She| vardnadze avoided the z kind of scalding rhetoric 9 that marred superpower
relations during the early 1980s. But they freely traded familiar charges during the formal Helsinki ceremonies. Shevardnadze said that Washington was “failing to negotiate in a businesslike manner” at the Geneva arms talks and that it is seeking to change Europe’s postwar borders. For his part, Shultz cited more than 20 individual cases that were designed to demonstrate that Moscow had failed to honor its Helsinki commitment to uphold human rights. According to Western politicians, 45 of 75 Soviets who monitored human rights practices after the 1975 accords have been jailed or committed to psychiatric hospitals. Among the victims: physicist Andrei Sakharov and jailed Jewish dissident Anatoly Scharansky.
Western activists are disappointed by Gorbachev’s performance on human rights during his first five months in power. They cite KGB chief Viktor Chebrikov’s frequent warnings that dissent will not be tolerated under the new leadership. Nor are the Western critics optimistic that Shevardnadze will be more sympathetic to human rights. He has also reportedly persecuted human rights activists in Georgia, where he serves as first secretary of the Communist Party. And last month, on the eve of Shevardnadze’s appointment as foreign minister, officials there arrested members of a local pop music protest group known as Phantom and charged them with treason.
Still, most officials expressed guarded support for the Helsinki Accords. Canadian External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, for one, said that the processes of monitoring European security and human rights measures are important, although “we have not had the progress in substance that we would have liked.” But diplomats from both East and West added that the accords have been successful in other areas. For one thing, the pact serves as a benchmark for gauging progress—or erosion—in East-West relations. And the Stockholm conference on European military security, an offshoot of the Helsinki agreement, has served to reduce tensions through such measures as providing prior notification of war games.
As the Helsinki ceremonies ended, most participants seemed to support Finnish President Mauno Koivisto’s comment that “there is no easy road to the aims set forth” in the accords. And as Shultz and Shevardnadze agreed to meet again this fall to make final preparations for the summit, both sides seemed eager to maintain the fragile thaw in superpower contacts. Said the new Soviet foreign minister: “We have taken the first step here.”
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