MOSCOW -- The United States and Soviet Union remain so divided on troop levels in Europe that the issue might have to be jettisoned from conventional arms negotiations in order to reach agreement by Nov. 19 as planned, an informed U.S. source said yesterday.
Talks should be nearing wrap-up if the deadline is to be met, he said, but are bogged down by disagreements over the troops and aircraft each side would be allowed.
The so-called CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) talks were among several problems still dividing the two superpowers that were touched on in a meeting here yesterday between U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III and his Soviet counterpart, Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
Pressure for a limit on troops in Europe has eased considerably as a result of the pledge by the Soviet Union ultimately to remove all its troops from Germany and as a result of budget pressure that is forcing the United States to rethink its force levels.
Mr. Baker said Monday that an earlier agreement between the two foreign ministers had been "overtaken" by the planned Soviet pullback. But new figures on U.S. forces proposed by the Soviets are said to be unacceptable to the Americans.
The Soviets remain insistent, however, on negotiating a troop ceiling, raising the possibility that these talks could continue after a conventional-forces agreement is reached on other topics.
The United States went into the CFE talks with the position that troop levels should not be part of negotiations in the first place. They were considered to be too difficult to verify and an unreliable way of controlling a mutual threat.
The United States wanted to include only tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers, because these were considered both militarily significant and verifiable. The Soviets, however, demanded that troops, aircraft and helicopters be included.
The CFE agreement is also being threatened from a different direction: pressure on the Soviets to cut back their forces in Warsaw Pact countries. Pact members failed to agree yesterday on the issue of dividing weaponry among the Soviets and their allies.
Problems with the CFE talks came up only briefly yesterday in talks between Mr. Baker and Mr. Shevardnadze, but a senior State Department official said he expected the two foreign ministers to discuss both those problems and difficulties in reaching a strategic arms accord in further meetings tomorrow.
Mr. Baker's visit is timed to coincide with tomorrow's scheduled signing of an accord that is to put the imprimatur of the four victorious World War II powers on the unification of Germany.
Top U.S. officials worked into the night to nail down the two-plus-four accord. One remaining problem apparently involved a Soviet demand barring the placement of weapons in the eastern part of Germany capable of carrying nuclear devices.
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has pledged that his country won't produce, possess or use nuclear weapons. But Moscow wants assurance that, having relinquished a strategic foothold in Germany, they won't be made more vulnerable to a nuclear threat as a result.
In addition to military issues, Mr. Baker and Mr. Shevardnadze continued their consultation on the Persian Gulf crisis, discussing both ways to try to prevent "leakage" in the international economic embargo and a long-term security structure for the region.