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Ho-Hum Attitude in Capital: 'Nothing We Can't Handle' : Washington Braces for Gorbachev Visit

December 06, 1987|MICHAEL WINES and JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — People in Washington say they are making ready for Monday's visit by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the usual Washington way: welding manholes shut, declaring a hotel to be a foreign mission, sending out bomb-sniffing dogs, putting out the good towels.

In fact, on the eve of the first visit by a Soviet leader since Leonid I. Brezhnev was here in 1973, official Washington professes to be almost bored.

"It creates problems, but nothing we can't handle," said QuintinPeterson, a spokesman for the District of Columbia police. "It's just something we have to deal with."

But when Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, land Monday afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base, the capital will be effectively under siege by armies of diplomats, reporters and security officers from both West and East.

The Soviet diplomats--an indeterminate number said to include representatives of the powerful Politburo and the 300-member Communist Party Central Committee--will take over most of the posh Madison Hotel five blocks from the White House. The Gorbachevs themselves are expected to stay at the Soviet Embassy, a narrow, 19th-Century stone building about a block from the Madison.

At the request of the district police, Secretary of State George P. Shultz has declared the Madison to be temporarily a foreign mission--an official Soviet diplomatic outpost--so that the umbrella of federal law can be extended to cover the Soviet delegation staying there.

The designation also puts the hotel and its environs under a local ordinance that bars street protests within 500 feet of a diplomatic office.

Demonstrations Planned

There will be demonstrators aplenty--although perhaps not as many as organizers are hoping. The first scheduled demonstration--a human chain that its organizers hoped would attract 5,000 peace activists and extend four blocks from the White House to the Soviet Embassy--drew only an estimated 400 people Saturday and reached no more than a block.

The biggest rally is scheduled for today: an estimated 25,000 Jewish activists and their sympathizers who will protest Soviet emigration and human rights policies. Vice President George Bush and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, both Republican candidates for President, plan to address the rally, and Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, a Democratic candidate, says that he and his family will join the march.

In the following days, protesters plan demonstrations to support President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as "Star Wars," to oppose Soviet crackdowns on Ukrainian dissidents, to attack Soviet repression of nationalist movements in Lithuania and other Baltic states and to criticize the Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan.

Other groups plan to demonstrate on such topics as AIDS research and the need to preach the Christian gospel to the Soviet people. No fewer than 10 protest groups set up shop in Lafayette Park directly north of the White House; the National Park Service assigned each to its own little piece of real estate within the two-block park.

About 6,000 out-of-town reporters will take over another hotel and a basement in the nearby Commerce Department, two blocks from the White House, as bases of operations. Soviet television borrowed part of the Washington bureau of CBS News last week, setting up a trailer on the street from which it will direct its coverage.

The Soviet news delegation--about 100 people--will be dwarfed by hordes of journalists and technicians from as far away as Bangladesh and Tanzania.

The four major U.S. television networks already have taken over the Ellipse, a park just south of the White House. A shantytown of booths and trailers has sprung up there to give anchormen a long-shot view of the south portico of the White House as a backdrop to their broadcasts.

"It looks like the poor side of Beirut," one Washingtonian cracked.

The Air Force, expecting 1,000 journalists to be on hand for Gorbachev's arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, has pressed reserve troops into action to enlarge a press area that normally accommodates no more than a few dozen people.

Tight Security

Security forces will be everywhere, although not always visible, looking for anything that might disrupt the Reagan-Gorbachev meetings or the Soviet leader's meetings with other U.S. officials and business leaders.

The scene will be considerably different from the one that greeted Nikita S. Khrushchev, the first Soviet leader to visit the United States, when he came here in 1959.

Khrushchev rode in an open car past 100,000 people in Washington and strolled through throngs of people in several other cities. Gorbachev's course from Andrews Air Force Base into Washington, and the routes he will travel about town, have not been announced. He is expected to travel by armored limousine.

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