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Nancy Reagan Unrolling the Red Carpet

November 19, 1987|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The White House and the State Department are scrambling to put together just the right sightseeing tour for Soviet First Lady Raisa Gorbachev, who may visit the National Gallery of Art, the Air and Space Museum and the Library of Congress between official functions during next month's superpower summit.

First Lady Nancy Reagan wrote Mrs. Gorbachev a letter Wednesday inviting her to a private tea and tour of the White House, which would include a rare glimpse of the living quarters as well as the public rooms with their art and presidential memorabilia.

Mrs. Reagan's letter was in response to Mrs. Gorbachev's "special request" for a White House tour that had been relayed through U.S. Ambassador Jack Matlock, a spokesman for Mrs. Reagan said.

"Although current plans indicate that we will participate jointly in various official functions over the course of the visit, I am hoping we can schedule some private time together as well," Mrs. Reagan's letter said.

"Because of your interest in art and historic restoration and your special request to tour the White House, I would like to extend my personal invitation to have you join me for a private tour and tea on Wednesday afternoon, the ninth of December."

The two women met in Geneva in 1985 when their husbands held their first summit. They talked to each other for several hours at two teas and have exchanged a few letters since then. Mrs. Gorbachev sent Mrs. Reagan flowers after the U.S. First Lady underwent a mastectomy for breast cancer on Oct. 17.

Sources close to Mrs. Reagan have indicated that she is keenly interested in seeing the two superpowers reach an arms control agreement, an accomplishment that she feels would end the Reagan presidency on a grand note and help dull the damaging effects of the Iran-Contra scandal.

The prospects that President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev will sign an agreement to ban intermediate-range nuclear missiles worldwide have brightened Mrs. Reagan's spirits since her surgery and the death of her mother a few weeks later.

'Very Special to Her'

"It's very, very special to her, the other side of the visit, the men getting together and coming to an agreement of some sort," said Elaine Crispen, the First Lady's press secretary.

The Gorbachevs are scheduled to arrive late in the day on Dec. 7 and will be officially received at the White House the next day. Tentative plans call for a state dinner in their honor at the White House that evening, and a dinner in the Reagans' honor the following night at the Soviet Embassy. The Gorbachevs will also attend a State Department luncheon at which the Reagans will not be present.

An advance team of 14 Soviets has scoured Washington for the last few days in search of spots Mrs. Gorbachev might like to visit during her few free hours. The team visited several of the capital's prime attractions, including the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Washington Monument, Mount Vernon and the Children's Hospital National Medical Center.

Teacher and Art Enthusiast

A source said the team's favorite stops were the National Gallery of Art, the Air and Space Museum and the Library of Congress, which would satisfy Mrs. Gorbachev's interests as a teacher and art enthusiast.

State Department planners also discussed having Mrs. Gorbachev visit Hillwood Mansion, which contains a large assortment of pre-revolutionary Soviet art and a Faberge collection.

Another proposal was for her to visit an upper-middle-class black school, but the Soviet team did not tour a school over the weekend, nor did they see Washington's most popular memorial, the Vietnam Memorial.

In preparation for the visit, Mrs. Reagan has discussed the Soviet Union with her son, Ron, who recently spent time in Moscow working on an ABC television project.

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