WASHINGTON — Fifteen students, including nine California high school pupils, emerged from a rare personal meeting with Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Thursday full of praise for the Soviet leader, whom they described as sincere, sensitive and farsighted.
But the questions they had meticulously prepared for Gorbachev on arms control, human rights and glasnost or openness were shelved as he turned the tables on them, asking about life in the United States and their views on his country.
They seemed not to mind. As they left the Soviet Embassy, most appeared overwhelmed by the experience.
"I met Gorbachev," was all that Robert Sternfels of Lodi High School, south of Sacramento, seemed able to murmur for a few moments. "Wow," echoed several of his peers.
Students were received individually by Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, who hugged several of them. They were offered chocolate, Russian candy and other sweets--reaching "a bilateral agreement on cookies," one student joked--and were given a book of drawings by Soviet children.
The meeting marked the climax of a three-year effort by Direct Connection, the overseeing group for the trip, to open up U.S.-Soviet communication among young people.