The Kremlin announced today that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will travel to Paris in October to meet with French President Francois Mitterrand. The Soviets also confirmed, simultaneously with Washington, that Gorbachev and President Reagan are to meet in November.
On Moscow's evening television news, it was the trip to Paris that got first billing.
The emphasis on Gorbachev's French visit, which is to take place Oct. 2-5, was another sign of a focus here on areas outside the U.S.-Soviet relationship, particularly on Europe and Asia. It is an approach that some diplomats here take as the first hint of Gorbachev's own imprint on foreign policy.
That imprint points to more inclusive and realistic approaches to regional issues, to a better understanding of the role of public relations in foreign affairs and, in the view of some diplomats here, to a shrewder attempt to play off U.S. allies against Washington.
The summit announcements were repeated at a press briefing tonight by Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko, whose cautionary remarks tended to play down the significance of the first meeting between U.S. and Soviet leaders since 1979.
In contrast, Lomeiko expressed optimism about the results of Gorbachev's trip to France, which he said held out the promise of improved bilateral relations, even "international relations," and prospects for "a return to detente."
Under Gorbachev, the emphasis on Asia came with revival of a 16-year-old Soviet proposal for a security arrangement in that area. But this time it would include, rather than exclude, China. In Europe, he has initiated Soviet recognition of the Common Market as a political entity.
Gorbachev first made world headlines with a successful trip to Britain last year. The French trip also suggests eagerness to reach outside the superpower axis and cultivate a new Soviet image to replace the stereotypical baggy suit and dour expression.
Today's summit announcements followed yesterday's extraordinary shifts in the foreign policy establishment that elevated veteran foreign minister Andrei Gromyko to the presidency and installed Georgian party chief Eduard Shevardnadze in his place.
It is still too early to talk of any significant shift in policies and, given Soviet emphasis on continuity, many diplomats here feel that in such major areas as arms control, substantive changes are unlikely in the near future.
But with Gorbachev appearing self-confident and in command, it seems clear that Soviet foreign policy will change at least in style. And that is more than most here expected at this early stage in his tenure.
During the spring, when Gorbachev was settling into the Kremlin, most western diplomats predicted it would be months before he turned his attention to diplomacy.
As an agriculture expert with a mandate to improve the economy, Gorbachev's priorities clearly lay in domestic affairs, they argued. And, they said, until next February's 27th Communist Party Congress was over and Gorbachev's team in place, the new leader was unlikely to disturb the edifice of foreign policy built by his predecessors.
Yesterday's events turned that assumption on its head. In a single day, Gorbachev took charge of Soviet foreign policy in a way that gives him flexibility without apparently having alienated the old establishment, in the view of diplomatic observers.
As diplomats in this normally slow-moving capital sought to absorb the changes, they began to examine several themes that have emerged in Gorbachev's speeches.
Since taking office in March, Gorbachev seems to have put relations with Eastern Europe and China at the head of his list of priorities. Economically and politically, the Warsaw Pact allies have been advised to stay close to the Moscow line, as Moscow has been making increasingly friendly gestures to China. The approach to China took its most explicit turn last week when Gorbachev, in a speech in the Ukraine, pledged that the Soviet Union would "vigorously work so that the negative period in Soviet-Chinese relations, which has given rise to many artificial problems, should be fully overcome."
The push for improved relations with China was also under the surface of Gorbachev's call May 21 for an Asian collective security arrangement. Raised at a dinner for Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the proposal resurrected a 1969 concept but in a markedly different context.
In 1969, the Soviets' proposed Asian security arrangement was aimed at a hostile China. This time, it seemed to offer an inclusive arrangement, designed to establish "confidence-building measures" to contain regional tensions. Gorbachev compared it to the Helsinki process in Europe. According to some reports, the Soviets have indicated a role for Japan and the United States.
In Europe, Gorbachev came up with a double-barreled appeal to the 10 members of the European Community during a visit here by Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi.
The first half of the appeal resurrected the idea of talks between Comecon, the Warsaw Pact's economic association, and the European Community.
But to western diplomats here, the most interesting twist was the political recognition by the Soviets of the European Community as an entity.
The Soviet Union had not formally acknowledged the existence of the community, a position that created cumbersome barriers in dealing with issues that EC members regard as best dealt with jointly.
The current appeal to Europe is similar to Soviet efforts during the late 1970s and early 1980s to divide NATO over the issue of medium-range missile deployment.
One difference is that during the missile debate, the Soviets were appealing to public opinion. Now, with the western allies divided over the merits of the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Soviet appeal is made more to governments and institutions, rather than over their heads.
According to some western diplomats here, the approach has also changed in tone, a shift that may be traced to the style of the new leader. "They have learned from the mistakes of the campaign against medium-range missiles that it is better to use the carrot instead of the stick," said a western diplomat.