MOSCOW--A year after concluding an arms treaty with the United States, Mikhail S. Gorbachev is heading for a meeting with President Reagan and President-elect George Bush to help set the pace for future arms talks.
During the Soviet president's trip, which begins today, he will address the United Nations and visit Cuba and Britain, trying to polish his image as a statesman and dispel the image of the Soviet Union as an enemy.
It was Gorbachev's luncheon meeting in New York with Reagan and Bush, planned for tomorrow, that the official media emphasized in its reports yesterday.
Tass called the meeting "an extraordinary event," because superpower relations are a determining factor for "the very essence of the world process."
"It is perfectly natural that the new administration will need some time to get its bearings in the complexity of domestic and international problems. But it is very important not to drag out this period," Tass said.
"Marking time in international affairs, especially in the domain of arms limitation and reduction, is tantamount not only to loss of time but to backsliding," it said.
On Dec. 8, 1987, Gorbachev and Reagan signed an agreement to eliminate their medium-and shorter-range nuclear missiles.
But progress in talks to cut the two sides' arsenals of strategic weapons slowed to a crawl because of the U.S. election campaign and problems including continued differences over Reagan's "Star Wars" program for a space-based defense against nuclear attack.
The government newspaper Izvestia, in a front-page article from New York yesterday, said the U.S. administration was preparing intensively for the meeting with Gorbachev. "There is a basis to suppose that the administration will not only listen but propose something in return," the paper said.
Gorbachev has said he is seeking improved relations with the West in order to free up resources to improve the standard of living of Soviet citizens.
One Western analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Soviet Union "doesn't have the resources to sustain the investment it's been making in foreign aid and defense."
Despite Gorbachev's drive for "perestroika," or restructuring, Soviet citizens have seen no improvement in the quality or quantity of food and consumer goods, and there is a pervasive feeling that things actually have worsened.
A survey by a Moscow sociological research institute earlier this fall found that only 2 percent of workers interviewed thought their lives had improved significantly under Gorbachev.
Soviet sources said the pressure to devote more resources to domestic needs means Gorbachev will try to end to the "enemy image." He also will try to convince Fidel Castro in Cuba that it is time to de-emphasize the revolutionary movement in Latin America.
In his talks with Castro, Gorbachev will emphasize that the Soviet Union will no longer encourage communist revolutions in Latin America, said one Soviet expert on Latin America.