Leaders of the seven Warsaw Pact countries opened a two-day summit Friday focusing on new proposals by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for conventional arms cuts in Europe.
There was speculation the meeting of the Political Consultative Council - the highest decision-making body of the Warsaw Pact - also may announce a token pullout of Soviet troops from an East Bloc country, perhaps Hungary or East Germany.The Polish Communist Party daily Tribuna Ludu noted the conference is the first since the May 29-June 2 Moscow summit of Gorbachev and President Reagan, "which confirmed the permanence of Soviet-American dialogue and supporting hopes for further disarmament steps."
In a speech Monday to the Polish Sejm, or parliament, Gorbachev suggested the convening of a pan-European summit - plus the leaders of the United States and Canada - to tackle the problem of arms reductions in Europe.
He also suggested that the Soviet Union would withdraw its air forces from advanced bases in Eastern Europe if the United States would not move a wing of F-16 fighter-bombers from Spain to Italy.
Comments in the communist-controlled newspapers and news agencies in Eastern Europe Friday emphasized the two Gorbachev proposals.
"It is a meaningful initiative aiming at building up confidence, strengthening security in Europe and continuation of the disarmament process," East Germany leader Erich Honecker said in an interview with Neues Deutschland before his arrival in the Polish capital.
"Mikhail Gorbachev's proposals aired at the Polish Sejm may be of great importance to European security," Soviet Communist Party Politburo member Vadim Medvedev, in charge of foreign affairs, said at a news briefing in the Polish capital Thursday.
The possible pullout of Soviet troops was prompted by several developments in the last week in East European capitals.
A Hungarian official last week suggested that his country might be the appropriate experimental forum for such a pullout.
But a Soviet military official accompanying Gorbachev to Poland said East Germany would be the more logical starting point for a good-faith gesture because NATO considers the troops massed there - an estimated 420,000 to 500,000 - the most threatening.
Both of the Gorbachev proposals to the Sejm got extensive play in the state-controlled Eastern news agencies, an indication that they may be put forward as part of the joint communique that will be issued at the end of the summit Saturday.
NATO is cool to the idea of expanding arms reduction talks beyond the member states of the two military alliances. Conventional force reduction talks have been deadlocked practically since they began in Vienna in 1973.
As to the aircraft proposal, NATO Secretary-General Manfred Woerner said focusing on aircraft alone does not address the larger issue of the Warsaw Pact's overwhelming advantage in tanks and troops.