WASHINGTON — Remember the evil empire?
With the summit and a historic nuclear arms control agreement on the horizon, President Reagan doesn't often call the Soviet Union "the evil empire" anymore. But frantic American officials planning this week's visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, may be calling it the impolite empire.
With the historic, peace-making event set to begin with the Gorbachevs' arrival at Andrews Air Force Base tonight, First Lady Nancy Reagan and other American officials have been fuming over the Soviets' lack of cooperation in coordinating their proposed activities here.
Detente was dented when Raisa Gorbachev, after making it known she wanted to tour the White House, did not respond for two weeks to Nancy Reagan's tour-and-tea invitation.
Although a Soviet advance team arrived here early last week, American officials were still pressing the Soviets last Friday to release Mrs. Gorbachev's overall tour schedule. They wanted to begin planning the complicated security arrangements for the sites she wanted to see, as well as the details of their presentations.
The Soviets did ask that the White House state dinner in their honor Tuesday night be shortened, so the White House decided to start it early and eliminate the "mix-and-mingle" portion of the evening, in which guests and a handful of reporters roam around and talk. Word also began filtering through that Mikhail Gorbachev would not honor the White House request for black tie and would wear a suit instead.
In short, glasnost, Gorbachev's new policy of openness, did not have a grand opening in Washington last week.
White House aides were especially miffed about the runaround given Mrs. Reagan over her tour-and-tea invitation.
"Mrs. Reagan was awfully gracious to send the invitation while she was still recuperating (from a mastectomy) and grieving for her mother. Then there is some surprise that you wait two weeks to even get a response and then get asked for a change," one White House aide said.
"To say Mrs. Reagan was disappointed would be putting it mildly," someone else close to the First Lady said.
After two weeks went by with no answer to the invitation to tea, the White House reportedly sent word that an answer was needed in 24 hours. When the reply came, Mrs. Gorbachev asked that the time of the visit be moved from 2:30 p.m. to 11:30 a.m. so that she could accompany her husband to an afternoon meeting with American publishers. Mrs. Reagan's schedule had to be re-arranged to accommodate her.
As for Gorbachev refusing to wear black tie, he follows the lead of former leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, who also opted for suits at White House state dinners in their honor. But, on top of the other troubles the Gorbachevs presented, the refusal to wear a tuxedo apparently rankled.
"A tux is just one step away from a man's business suit," one White House aide said. "When in Rome you do as the Romans do. The Reagans wore the national dress of Bali when they went to Bali." (No American who attended will ever forget the President's loud shirt, covered with huge hand-painted emblems of the presidential seal.) "Someone there made them the clothes for the dinner, and they wore them," the aide said.
Whatever Gorbachev wears, the dinner will be the social event of the season. Los Angeles guests will include actor Jimmy Stewart and his wife, Gloria; and Dr. Armand Hammer and his wife, Frances. Other guests include Russian-born Mstislav Rostropovich, director of the National Symphony; House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art. The State Department told the White House the Gorbachevs like classical music, so the Reagans arranged to have pianist Van Cliburn play in his first performance since going on sabbatical in 1978. Cliburn became popular in the Soviet Union after he won first prize in the 1958 International Tschaikovsky piano competition in Moscow.
The National Gallery of Art is believed to be the most likely attraction to be visited by Raisa Gorbachev, who is keenly interested in art. She may also see the downtown monuments from an automobile, and is expected to accompany her husband on many of his stops.
Mrs. Gorbachev is scheduled to have tea this evening with Helena Shultz, wife of the secretary of state. Tuesday, both Gorbachevs will be officially received at the White House in a full arrival ceremony including military honors. Mrs. Reagan and Mrs. Gorbachev will have coffee together briefly while their husbands meet privately. The state dinner follows in the evening.
Wednesday morning, Mrs. Gorbachev will have her White House tour and coffee. (It's officially coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon, although both beverages will be available.) The Soviet embassy hosts a dinner in honor of the Reagans in the evening.
The Gorbachevs leave on Thursday afternoon.