The State Department confirmed Saturday it has indications the Soviet Union may be considering a withdrawal of troops stationed in Hungary since the 1956 uprising, an announcement echoed in Budapest by a leading Hungarian Communist Party official.
State Department spokeswoman Sandra McCarty said the United States "would welcome" the complete withdrawal of the 65,000 Soviet troops stationed in the Eastern European nation.Speaking in the Hungarian capital of Budapest, Geza Kotai, Central Committee secretary in charge of foreign affairs, said the withdrawal was in line with a Soviet initiative to reduce conventional weapons and troops in Europe.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan discussed the reduction of conventional forces in Europe at their May summit in Moscow.
"The proposal on elimination of discrepancies by (troop) reductions could concern partly the foreign troops - that is, the units of the Soviet Southern Army deployed in Hungary - and perhaps our national force as well," Kotai said in an interview broadcast Friday night on Hungarian television and reported Saturday by the official Hungarian news agency MTI.
There is speculation that the unilateral troop withdrawals might be announced at a two-day summit of Warsaw Pact nations July 15-16 in Warsaw.
Asked how Western Europeans received the initiatives on the reduction of troops in Hungary, Kotai said: "With great interest and sympathy."
In what some observers called an attempt to defuse in advance the positive publicity of a surprise withdrawal, the State Department said, "We have increasing indications that the Soviets may be contemplating an early decision to pull forces out of Hungary.
"Even if the Soviets remove forces currently stationed in Hungary, the significant conventional force disparity in favor of the Warsaw Pact would remain," McCarty said.
"From the Atlantic to the Urals, the Warsaw Pact would still have at least a 2-to-1 advantage over NATO in tanks, artillery and armored infantry and fighting vehicles," she said.
McCarty noted the State Department has heard rumors for the past year and a half of unilateral troop withdrawals from Eastern Europe "outside the framework of and even in advance of the new conventional arms control negotiations."
Rumors of a troop withdrawal also have circulated in Budapest, but diplomats in the Hungarian capital did not appear to be aware of any concrete move to pull out the Soviet forces.
"We would welcome this move should the Soviets opt to withdraw all of their forces currently stationed there," McCarty said.
"This would be totally consistent with NATO's objective as set forth in last March's NATO summit statement of eliminating asymmetries in the conventional balance in Europe," she said.
The Soviet Union, which entered Hungary during the 1956 uprising, has some 65,000 troops in four tank and motorized rifle divisions, associated support units and some air force components in the Warsaw Pact nation, McCarty said.
The State Department, in announcing indications of a withdrawal, also appeared to be sending a message to Moscow that it would welcome a complete and effective pullback of forces rather than a symbolic withdrawal.
"Should such a withdrawal take place, we would be interested in whether the units were disbanded or simply moved into the western USSR or were withdrawn east of the Urals and at what level of readinesss they would be maintained," McCarty said.
"The task of confirming that the withdrawal had actually occurred would obviously be much simpler if all the troops were pulled out and their units disbanded," she said.