WASHINGTON -- The United States and the Soviet Union agreed in principle yesterday on a landmark treaty limiting non-nuclear weapons in Europe that will sharply cut back Soviet military might in Eastern Europe.
The agreement, still to be approved by the Warsaw Pact and by U.S. allies in NATO, requires the Soviets to destroy or withdraw east of the Urals tens of thousands of tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces now in Eastern and Central Europe.
"We have been able to reach mutual understanding on all the major issues," Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze said in New York following five hours of meetings with Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
He joked: "And of course the Soviet Union made all the main concessions."
Mr. Baker added, "I think it's fair to say that pending our consultations with our allies, we have agreed in principle on . . . all of the major remaining issues in the conventional forces talks. I think we have achieved . . . an agreement that is going to result in the reduction and in the destruction of significant amounts of military equipment."
The United States had insisted that an agreement on so-called conventional arms be reached before committing itself to attend next month's 34-nation summit in Paris on reshaping the security map of Europe. Mr. Baker still would not say last night that the United States would attend but said that he didn't anticipate any hitches in the treaty-drafting process.
Much of the political urgency driving negotiations had been eased by the new U.S.-Soviet partnership and Eastern Europeans' desire to rid their countries of Soviet forces. But the United States nevertheless is pressing to lock in arms accords with a cooperative Soviet regime.
Negotiations on long-range nuclear forces remain unresolved, although both Presidents Bush and Mikhail S. Gorbachev have instructed their foreign ministers to give them a new push in an effort to have a treaty ready to sign by year's end.
Mr. Baker, who returned to Washington last night, was expected meet with Mr. Shevardnadze again in New York tomorrow on the long-range weapons, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
"We want to prepare the ground in order to complete the talks on strategic offensive arms this year," Mr. Shevardnadze told reporters at the Soviets' U.N. mission.
Given the lopsided conventional force imbalance between Soviet and U.S. forces in Europe, the cuts in North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in yesterday's tentative agreement -- chiefly, removal of 2,000 tanks -- were seen as minimal.
Mr. Baker and Mr. Shevardnadze did not disclose what agreement had been reached on aircraft. ABC News said the Soviets had agreed to cut more than 7,000 aircraft.
A remaining issue, dealing with helicopters, was expected to be handled by negotiators in Geneva.
Troop levels were dropped from the conventional forces talks last month. Mr. Baker said an earlier accord he had reached with Mr. Shevardnadze had been overtaken by the Soviets' decision eventually to remove all their troops from Germany. The Pentagon has also announced U.S. troop cuts in Europe.
The Warsaw Pact would have to destroy or withdraw froEastern and Central Europe:
* 40,000 tanks
* More than 51,000 artillery pieces
* More than 40,000 armored per-sonnel carriers
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization would have to remove:
* 2,000 tanks
New ceilings for each alliance:
* 20,000 tanks
* 20,000 artillery pieces
* 30,000 armored personnel carriers
* Aircraft ceiling not revealed.