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Ratification May Be Eased : Gorbachev Impresses Congressional Leaders

December 10, 1987|SARA FRITZ and KAREN TUMULTY | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Like most of official Washington, leaders of Congress were clearly beguiled by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Wednesday and later acknowledged that their favorable impression of him will likely hasten Senate ratification of the new U.S.-Soviet arms pact.

By all accounts, Gorbachev talked politician-to-politician with congressional leaders during their early morning, 90-minute meeting at the Soviet Embassy. He was candid, forceful, slightly irreverent and even used the Russian equivalents of several colloquial American phrases such as "good vibes," "taking the bull by the horns" and "beat around the bush."

'Like Six Headlights'

"He's not a big B.S.-er," said Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), who admitted that he found Gorbachev a trustworthy man. "I'd rather sit in a room with a guy that comes at you like six headlights--like a Mack truck--instead of someone who just sits there and picks around the issues."

The obvious purpose of Gorbachev's meeting with the congressional leaders was to help President Reagan in lobbying for early Senate ratification of the new treaty eliminating ground launched, intermediate-range nuclear missiles. And by that standard, as well as many other measures, the session was an unqualified success.

None of the congressional leaders expressed any opposition to the treaty, and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who has been extremely reluctant to endorse the pact, told Gorbachev that he, Dole, would help to produce a "big vote" in favor of the treaty.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said he sensed from Dole's remarks that GOP conservative opposition to the treaty is softening--making early ratification more likely. He added that Dole was not as "antagonistic" as he had been at the White House last week when he lectured Reagan on the Senate's right to give advice and consent on treaties.

Domestic Problems

What appeared to impress the congressional leaders the most about Gorbachev was his willingness to admit that things are not perfect for him in the Soviet Union. He clearly disarmed them by admitting that he faces political opposition back home from conservatives who, like those in the United States, oppose the treaty and are suspicious of warmer U.S.-Soviet relations.

"We have our conservatives, too," Gorbachev said, according to a transcript released of his opening remarks. "They are different than your conservatives. They are accustomed to a certain way of life, a certain order of things. They need to change their attitude toward life. They won't get the upper hand."

Gorbachev suggested that he might have trouble winning the support of the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet legislature, for the new treaty, just as Reagan will have some trouble getting Senate ratification. "Perhaps for the first time in history . . . the process of ratification in our own country will not go through as easily as has in the past," he said.

Unexpectedly Moved

Assistant House Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a staunch conservative, admitted that he was unexpectedly moved by Gorbachev's frankness. "I was stunned by his candor and the way he talked about their own internal politics," he said.

California Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), the House assistant majority leader, said Gorbachev also impressed the congressional leaders as a professional politician, much like themselves.

"He was blunt; he was like a politician," he said. "Here's a guy who is willing to take on the Great Communicator. . . . He dealt with us as equals. He's not afraid to be tough and, in the next breath, not afraid to be conciliatory. It's obvious when you sit with him that he's a world leader. He fills the room."

Meeting privately with Dole after the others had departed, Gorbachev even mentioned Dole's campaign for the 1988 GOP presidential nomination. "He wished me good luck and I told him I was winning," the Senate leader recalled.

House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) said Gorbachev was even more poised than he had been during a previous meeting with congressional leaders in Moscow in 1985, when he relied heavily on prepared notes that were underlined in red and blue ink.

'He's Nobody's Dummy'

"Today--no notes whatsoever," said Michel. "He never once turned to any of his advisers. He knew exactly what he was going to say. . . . You have to be impressed with the caliber of the man. He's nobody's dummy."

Also, Gorbachev compared favorably to previous Soviet leaders who have met with congressional leaders, they said.

"I don't think you're ever going to find Mr. Gorbachev pounding the U.N. table with his shoe," said Michel, referring to the antics of the late Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev. "He's a different individual from the old-time, stodgy . . . type."

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