Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in his first meeting with Americans since last month's summit, tonight told a group of businessmen that any improvement in trade relations depends on Washington's willingness to remove existing "political obstacles."
Speaking at a banquet honoring Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige and other participants at a meeting of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Trade Council, Gorbachev said that as long as the Soviet Union is singled out for discriminatory treatment, no "large-scale" trade improvement would be possible.
"This is regrettable," said Gorbachev, "but we are not going to beg the United States for anything."
In a brisk and frank 25-minute speech shown in full on Soviet television, Gorbachev echoed a theme heard here throughout this week's meetings: that an expansion of trade could be one of the tangible benefits from the Geneva meeting between President Reagan and Gorbachev.
And in enumerating the "obstacles" holding back a significant increase in U.S.-Soviet trade, Gorbachev moved the dialogue from the positive atmospherics of Geneva to a list of concrete demands.
"We have entered a particularly crucial period when words, intentions and political statements should be translated into concrete decision and action . . . that would contribute to putting Soviet-American relations on an even keel," he said in his speech tonight.
Gorbachev met for 90 minutes today with Baldrige, as Moscow continued to roll out the red carpet for the more than 400 American businessmen here to attend the trade council meeting.
Baldrige at a press conference tonight described the meeting as "direct and friendly."
Tonight, Gorbachev went through a list of Soviet complaints about trade with the United States, including the witholding of most-favored-nation trading status, stringent controls on high technology exports and a history of political embargoes.
"So long as those obstacles exist, there will be no normal development of Soviet-U.S. trade and other economic ties on a large scale," he said.
A lifting of the barriers would allow U.S. businesses to compete for large long-term contracts in Soviet energy development, modernization of the machine-building industry, agribusiness and other areas, Gorbachev said.
"In our dangerous world, we simply cannot afford to neglect, nor have we the right to do so, the stabilizing factors in relations such as trade and economic, scientific and technological ties," he said.
The interdependence of the current world economy is to be welcomed, Gorbachev said.
"It can become a powerful incentive in building stable, normal and, I would even venture to say, friendly relations," he said.
In a speech at a dinner last night, Baldrige also noted that significant improvements in trade had to come in the political context.
The U.S. perception of the changes needed for an improved political climate mirrors the Soviet demands. For instance, the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment links the granting of most-favored-nation status, which exempts Soviet goods from high tariffs, to a relaxation of Soviet emigration policies.
Just as the Soviet Union sets the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik amendment as a prerequisite for better U.S. business opportunities here, the United States has set an improvement in the Soviet human rights record as a key ingredient for a better political relationship.
Tonight, Baldrige said he doubted any attempt would be made soon to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, although "it's possible most-favored-nation status may develop in the future."
He said the subject of human rights had come up in his meeting with Gorbachev, but that most of the discussion had focused on trade.
Baldrige spoke to other Soviet complaints when he noted the inviolability of contracts had been strengthened by the 1985 Export Act and that certain categories of high-technology exports had been taken off the restricted list.