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WASHINGTON--The Reagan administration yesterday ordered 55 Soviet diplomats to leave the country within nine days, but said it hoped the action would not sour the prospects for arms control.
Five of the diplomats were declared "persona non grata" in retaliation for the earlier expulsion of five U.S. diplomats from Moscow. The additional 50 were ordered out to bring the Soviet embassy staff in Washington and consulate staff in San Francisco "to parity" with the size of the U.S. contingent in Moscow and Leningrad.
State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman announced the massive retaliation with "regrets," but said it was forced on the administration by the Soviet Union.
Redman also sought to assure Moscow that the United States did not want to lose the momentum achieved at President Reagan's summit meeting in Iceland with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
"We remain committed to pursuing the dialogue stemming from the Reykjavik meeting in all areas of our relationship," he said. "This problem of espionage is an important one, but it is a separate problem, and our plan is to go ahead with the dialogue."
The administration is preparing new arms control proposals, based on the summit meeting, to present to the Soviets in negotiations in Geneva. Also, Secretary of State George P. Shultz is due to meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze in Vienna on Nov. 6.
Under the new ceiling, required by Congress last year, the Soviets will be permitted to have no more than 225 people at their embassy in Washington and no more than 26 at the consulate in San Francisco.
This amounts to a reduction of 54 positions in Washington and 15 in San Francisco. But with some of the posts currently unfilled, 38 people will be required to leave the capital and 12 must quit San Francisco.
The five Soviets declared "persona non grata" were identified as counselors Vasiliy Fedotov, Oleg Likhachev and Aleksandr Metelkin and attache Nikolay Kokovin, all at the embassy in Washington, and Lev Zaytsev, consul in San Francisco.
This matches the expulsion of the five Americans from Moscow for what the Soviets Sunday called "impermissible activities."
Redman said the five Soviets were singled out because "they are persons we have reason to believe have engaged in activities inconsistent with their diplomatic status."
This appeared to an allegation that they were involved in espionage activites, but Redman did not make the charge directly. However, he stressed their expulsion was caused by "the unjustified action by the Soviets in expelling five U.S. diplomats in Moscow."
In Moscow, Gennady Gerasimov, a spokesman for the Soviet Foreign Ministry, said "if the United States will insist on continuing this game of tit-for-tat, then this can continue indefinitely. We consider it is time to stop."
The official Soviet news agency Tass, in a Russian-language dispatch from Washington, said yesterday that with the expulsion, "the Reagan administration has undertaken the next step aimed at worsening Soviet-American relations."
Congress last year, in an amendment by Sens. Patrick Leahy and William Cohen, gave the executive branch three years to bring the diplomatic staffs in the two countries to equality. The amendment permitted the administration to determine how and when to meet the deadline.
A second amendment by Leahy (D-Vt.) and Cohen (R-Maine) was passed and signed earlier this month. It requires that within three years the U.S. and Soviet U.N. missions be roughly equal.
Twenty-five Soviets who were working at the U.N. mission in New York were identified as intelligence agents last month and ordered to leave. The Soviets responded Sunday with the expulsion of the five American diplomats by Oct. 31.
Usually, the two sides cool down after a round of expulsions. But the Reagan administration considered kicking out the Soviets in New York a separate issue. Another 70 will be ordered to leave in three steps over the next 18 months.
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