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The Washington Summit : 'Everything Is All Right' Between First Ladies

December 10, 1987|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — After Nancy Reagan finally took Raisa Gorbachev on their controversy-ridden tour of the White House on Wednesday, the bubbly Soviet First Lady decided it was a nice house to visit, but she wouldn't want to live there.

"It's an official house," Mrs. Gorbachev told reporters through an interpreter. "A human being would like to live in a regular house. This is a museum. And Mrs. Reagan is kind enough to tell me about the history and this house."

For the leaders' wives, it was a day of conversation, candor and celebration as they seemed to make a point of demonstrating that they were getting along well, despite all the pre-summit rumors that they didn't much like each other.

Sources close to Mrs. Reagan had revealed last week that the American First Lady was miffed that Mrs. Gorbachev waited more than two weeks to respond to her invitation to visit the White House for tea and a tour. The invitation was changed to coffee and a tour of the Executive Mansion when the time, at Mrs. Gorbachev's request, was changed from afternoon to morning.

Others said the bad feelings dated from last year's summit at Reykjavik, Iceland, which Mrs. Reagan did not attend because it was billed as a strictly business affair and she believed Mrs. Gorbachev was not going. Instead, Mrs. Gorbachev covered Iceland like a blanket, touring schools, gathering press coverage and speculating that Mrs. Reagan must have been ill.

Lengthy Handshake

When Mrs. Gorbachev arrived at the White House on Wednesday morning, Nancy Reagan took her hand and, for the photographers' benefit, engaged in a lengthy handshake.

Later, Mrs. Reagan said that talk of a competition between them was "so silly. This is a summit of pretty substantive issues." She added that she found Mrs. Gorbachev to be "very nice, very bright, intelligent."

When Mrs. Gorbachev was asked about the reported chill between them, she responded: "Everything is all right. Mrs. Reagan gave the answer. She is the hostess and that was her word."

Besides touring the White House, the women also sat down to morning coffee with apricot and cherry tarts and cinnamon turnovers. Their conversation went on so long, 25 minutes, that Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who was there to speak with President Reagan, had to wait for his wife so they could leave together for their next stop, a meeting with American publishers. When the women emerged, the men were looking at their watches.

"Actually we had an interesting development," Gennady I. Gerasimov, the Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman, later told the international press about Wednesday's meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev. "The leaders extended their talks for 10 minutes because the ladies were very deep engaged in their talks. So they waited for the women."

American Authors Admired

Mrs. Gorbachev often turned to chat with reporters, saying that she has tried to learn English on her own and enjoys the translated works of Jack London and Mark Twain.

A former philosophy teacher, Mrs. Gorbachev remarked: "In our age, all of us have to work. We have professional duties. . . . A person in the 20th Century is at a loss as to how to distribute our time, even though all of us seek to know as much as possible."

During the tour, Mrs. Reagan showed Mrs. Gorbachev the dining room mantel inscribed with a John Adams quote: "May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."

Mrs. Gorbachev responded: "Indeed only the honest and wise should rule the world. They are good words."

Looking at the cameras but apparently talking to Mrs. Reagan, Mrs. Gorbachev said: "I invite you to come to Leningrad and Moscow, because we have many historic sights, we have many historic buildings."

'I Would Like to See Leningrad'

The invitation was in response to a comment that Mrs. Reagan made to Gorbachev during the previous night's White House dinner. "He thought I should see the Kremlin," Mrs. Reagan recounted Wednesday, "and I said I would like to see Leningrad."

Throughout the day Mrs. Gorbachev expressed affection for the American people and lamented that her trip was not longer.

"I never doubt and I am confident of the sincere, honest and friendly feelings of the American people," she said.

At the National Gallery of Art, Mrs. Gorbachev charmed onlookers with her admiration of the works on display, saying that artist Georgia O'Keeffe was "a great American painter, and most important, she was a woman." She also quipped to gallery director J. Carter Brown: "The Soviet Union is not a matriarchy yet, but we're working on it."

When Brown pointed out that the Whistler painting "The White Girl" was of Whistler's mistress, she became so intrigued with it that she "refused to move along," Brown said. "She stayed way beyond what they told us we could not keep her beyond, under penalty of death."

"I just like art," Mrs. Gorbachev explained. But during her American visit, she said, "meeting people is the most interesting thing."

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