Soviet first lady Raisa Gorbachev's motorcade delivered her to the door the house in Georgetown promptly at 11:30 yesterday morning. With a wave and a warm "good morning" to the paparazzi, she stepped out of her limousine and into the home of Democratic activist Pamela Harriman, who had assembled five distinguished American women for more than an hour of private conversation.
By the end of the meeting, convened at Mrs. Gorbachev's request, they had talked about politics and peace, cancer and alcoholism, and life in a fishbowl. They had asked her so many questions -- and she had talked so much -- that Sen. Barbara Mikulski later joked, "This is the first person I've ever met who talks more than I do."
The guests were: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court; Sens. Mikulski of Maryland, a Democrat, and Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, a Republican; Hanna Gray, president of the University of Chicago; and Katharine Graham, chairman of the board of The Washington Post Co. The guest list was drafted by the wife of the current Soviet ambassador, Liana Dubinin, who also attended, according to Reuter.
Mrs. Gorbachev, who wore a red wool suit with black blouse and sheer stockings, extended personal greetings to each of them in the Harriman library, showing that she had done her homework.
"Mrs. Gorbachev absolutely warmed my heart by indicating that she thought the job I have was a job of great power," Gray told a crush of reporters later at curbside. Gray added that she tried to disabuse Mrs. Gorbachev of that notion, "but she remained unconvinced."
Mrs. Gorbachev told Kassebaum that she had recently seen her on ABC's "Capital to Capital." And she commended Mikulski for being the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right.
After exchanging pleasantries over juice, the women moved to Harriman's formal dining room, where the table was set with pads and pens, according to Diane Thompson, Mikulski's chief of staff.
The conversation, aided by an interpreter, turned from nuclear weapons to the role of women in society and the prospects for expanded cultural exchanges between the two countries, participants said afterwards.
Mikulski said that she and Mrs. Gorbachev discussed their common background in sociology, including the 53-year-old first lady's dissertation on nutrition, housing and family life as they relate to Russian peasants.
According to guests, Mrs. Gorbachev expressed mixed emotions about how her own life has changed since she was thrust upon the world stage. She regretfully noted that she had to give up teaching. But she also spoke enthusiastically about the large volume of mail she receives.
"She spoke of it with a great deal of relish," Mikulski said.
Mikulski and Kassebaum offered the first lady proposals for new collaborative ventures between Soviet institutions and American universities. Mikulski suggested joint cancer research; Kassebaum proposed a Soviet-American program on alcoholism, a problem high on Mikhail Gorbachev's hit list.
Mrs. Gorbachev, Mikulski said, stressed that the children of both countries must be raised in a spirit of goodwill if warm relations are to blossom between the superpowers.
The gracious visitor, Mrs. Gorbachev brought Harriman a package of Russian chocolates and a book on Soviet icons. Mikulski gave Mrs. Gorbachev a book on Maryland's history and a contemporary study of American culture, "Habits of the Heart."
Mrs. Gorbachev and her hostess emerged from the Harriman house at 12:45, holding hands.
"The visit of the general secretary to the United States and his conversations with the president and the signing of the treaty -- that, my friends, is a holiday for our both nations," the first lady told reporters. "Our nations can celebrate together."
She called the INF Treaty "the first real step toward the destruction and the annihilation of nuclear weapons. We should live and hope that there are further steps taken," she said.
She praised her hostess's late husband, W. Averell Harriman, the wartime ambassador to the Soviet Union, saying he "always believed that our peoples can be together. That's what we should strive for."
"Mrs. Gorbachev is doing a fine job," Pamela Harriman told reporters.
Former Soviet ambassador to the U.S. Anatoliy Dobrynin, acting as an intermediary, first proposed the idea of a luncheon to Harriman last month but scaled the event down to a "meeting with tea" to squeeze it into the first lady's schedule.
Although the subject of human rights and refuseniks never came up at the meeting, Mikulski gave Mrs. Gorbachev a letter commending the Soviet Union for granting exit visas to three Soviet families who emigrated to Maryland. The letter also urged that permission be granted to "all those who seek reunification with their families."
After the meeting, some of the guests were asked whether Mrs. Gorbachev wouldn't have benefited from meeting a more diverse group.
"We all wish there was a broader representation," Kassebaum said.
Mikulski concurred, but added, "I will take any chance I can get to establish good rapport and good relations."
Besides, she said, "You never know when you need a friend in the Kremlin."