Former president Richard Nixon returned to the Washington diplomatic circuit last night and turned the Soviet Embassy's annual celebration of the Russian Revolution into his personal party.
Embassy guest jostled and pushed to shake hands with Nixon as he held court, signing autographs, posing for pictures and recalling events from his days in the White House. He soon had a rival receiving line in a separate room as Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin greeted the more than 1,000 guests invited to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
Two days after the Republicans walked away with the presidential and Senate elections, almost no Carter officials were evident at the Russian party. But there were Nixon and Henry Kissinger and a sense of dejavu of the period of East-West detente during the Nixon White House.
Henry Kissinger was standing on the grand staircase, like all the other guests, waiting his turn at the receiving line, when Nixon swept in -- and swept him away.
"Henry, you come with me," Nixon said to Kissinger as he took him by the elbow and propelled him up the stairs past all the other guests right to Ambassador and Mrs. Dobrynin.
It was, perhaps, an unpropitious moment for the former secretary of state, now being mentioned as the future secretary of state, to encounter his ex-boss. n"I literally met him on the stairs." Kissinger emphasized later.
While Nixon chatted with Dobrynin and posed for photographers, holding a shot glass of vodka and telling the ambassador he never drank the stuff, Kissinger was besieged by guests who were already envisioning him in his old post. Kissinger managed a weak smile and mumbled several times that he'd already held the job. "I don't particularly want it. I've done it once before," he said.
"Look. I'm looking for a job," he added, but people just smiled.
"Would you take ambassador to China?"
"I would not."
"How about the Court of St. James's?"
"If you aren't going to be Secretary of State, who would be your choice?"
"I think Haig or Shultz. There are many others. I think President-elect Reagan should decide."
Nixon, who stayed for a little over an hour, was making his first appearance on the Washington party circuit since he was forced to resign more than six years ago, although he did attend a White House dinner given for Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping in early 1979.
Last night, the former president obviously was relishing his return. He expansively recalled visits overseas with ambassadors and embassy officials, and was eager to talk about his party's victory.
"Washington will really like it. There will be new style. I don't mean that to be critical of the current administration, but it will be different.
"Naturally it's a shock when a change is made because people don't quite know how to adjust. But I think they will find that Reagan is a reasonable man, a strong man and a man who is reliable. I believe that people think this is a period of danger of war. But because he is a strong man, it will be just the opposite.
"There was a similar situation in 1968. And I want to be careful how I say this because we are in the Russian Embassy. Just as Governor Reagan is not a favorite of Moscow's, I was not, but we made progress.
"Despite the campaign charges and counter-charges, the president-elect will launch a real crusade for peace. He has good instincts, just like President Carter. He is a man of peace."
As guests thronged around the former president, Valentin M. Kamenev, the Russian Embassy press counselor, joked with a reporter about the guest taking over the party.
"What will your story be about?It probably will be all about Mr. Nixon.
You should write about the mood here in the embassy as we celebrate this great anniversary."
And what was the mood of the Russians, he was asked, with the apparent death of Salt II negotiations and a president-elect who speaks of a strengthened American posture in foreign affairs and defense?
"As you, we must wait to see," he replied. "We believe it is in the United States' interest for us to be friends."
Kamenev broke off the conversation when asked about Vladimir V. Popov, a former third secretary at the Soviet Embassy. Popov figured in news reports as "Igor," the Russian contact for David Barnett, the former CIA agent who pleaded guilty last week to selling secrets to the Soviets.
"What is the name?" Kamenev asked. "There is no one here with that name." When pressed about the listing of a Vladimir V. Popov s one of the embassy's third secretaries in the State Department's diplomatic list of Mary, 1980, Kamenev replied:
"There is no such person."
Nixon, who flew to Washington on the shuttle specifically for the party, said he had come "on the spur of the moment . . . I decided just a few days ago. . . From a personal standpoint I came because of personal respect I have for Dobrynin as an able ambassador. He is an able ambassador as any."
One of the foreign envoys waiting in line to talk to Nixon was Egyptian Ambassador Ashraf A. Ghorbal.
"When I saw President Sadat at the shah's funeral," Nixon told him, "I told your president that he and Reagan will hit it off very well. I know he [Sadat] was a good friend of President Carter. We give the Carter administration high marks for that.But he also will be good friends with Reagan."
To Tanzanian Ambassador Paul Bomani:
"You'll like President Reagan.He's a good man. I think at some point he ought to visit Africa."
And to Spike Hanssen, an editor who is a native of Iceland:
"I had a visit from eight young people of the Icelandic Independent Party just this morning. They certainly play tough with their politics."
Some in the crowd, although apprised of Nixon's presence, kept they hard-earned spots around the buffet tables, with centerpiece of stuffed pig. Within 20 minutes, the tables were picked clean, and only those who were there when the party started got to sample the caviar.
One of the few Carter administration guests, Frank Moore, were held up at the stairs by several sympathetic guests. Moore finally said: "I think I better hurry in so I can get some caviar. This may be the last party I'm invited to."
But he was too late.