Planning for the Reagan-Gorbachev summit has just begun. The Soviet advance party, which arrived in a blinding snowstorm, is examining the agenda offered by the U.S. side. In their luggage they brought a request for the arrangement of a Gorbachev news conference.
This intriguing item comes from the Soviet Embassy, which is exhibiting more glasnost than the American team headed by Tom Griscom, White House communications director, and Army Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, the new national security adviser, who are less accessible.
"It is a strong possibility," said a Soviet press aide. "We are looking at possible sites, the Pension Building or the Convention Center. It will have to be a large place. There will be 4,000 correspondents covering the summit."
The news conference idea suggests that Mikhail Gorbachev wishes to emphasize his difference from previous Bolshevik biggies who would not dream of taking impertinent questions from nosy reporters -- and also to reassert the self-confidence that made two other such meetings, one at the Geneva summit of 1985 and the Reykjavik summit of 1986, such memorable events.
In the preliminaries leading to the summit, Gorbachev somewhat diminished his stature in the West. His sudden postponement jolted admirers in the West and gave an impression of a man who is not master in his own house. He seemed to realize this and promptly rebooked. He has made no secret of his desperate desire to parley on the Strategic Defense Initiative, which the administration refuses to discuss even in terms of technical detail. Whether they blinked or he did is not clear.
A Washington news conference would give him a chance to clear up that mystery and to show his mastery of the details of arms control. It would also a subtle way of one-upping his host. The leader of the free world detests meetings with the news media and avoids them as much as possible.
Gorbachev served notice in his address to the 70th anniversary Communist Party gathering in Moscow that he will not settle for ceremony. The signing of the minimal intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty will not be enough.
"In this critical period, the world expects the third and fourth Soviet-U.S. summit to produce more than merely an official acknowledgment of the decision agreed upon a year ago, and more than merely a continuation of the discussion. The growing danger that weapons may be perfected to a point where they will become uncontrollable is urging us to waste no time," he said.
He has indicated he wishes to speak to the Senate about ratification of the INF treaty. He is said to be apprehensive that it might not be ratified -- he could easily have concluded that after listening to the GOP candidates' debate, at which only Vice President Bush said aye. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, exhorting Democrats at a recent private meeting to support the pact, was told by Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) that if the administration can round up 17 Republican votes, it should pass 75 to 25.
Gorbachev has made it clear that he does not want to be a straight man for the president in a coast-to-coast photo-opportunity to be climaxed by a visit to the Reagans' mountaintop ranch. He wants to avoid the panorama of endless productivity, which contrasts so dramatically with Soviet shortages. Soviets are willing to stipulate that we are superior in the delivery of goods and services -- with the unarguable exception of our ability to deal with snow in the nation's capitol -- and Gorbachev seems to want more to bargain than to gaze.
If, in the end, he confines himself to Washington, a city much put down by his host and other conservative inhabitants, the standard tour of our national shrines might be just the ticket. The Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, Mount Vernon, all speak to the fact that we are not the running dogs of capitalism of Kremlin rhetoric but a nation founded on ideas and ideals. At the National Archives, he should be read a few paragraphs from the Declaration of Independence, which would tell him about our youthful, angry, high-hearted revolutionary beginnings. The Preamble to the Constitution would give him something to think about.
One addition to the classic itinerary might be made: the Vietnam Wall. This has become the country's greatest folk-monument, loved and wept over more than any statuary within our borders. It declares in black granite that when you fight silly wars with small, stubborn nations, you only kill young men. For a leader mired down in an endless war with Afghan rebels, the sight of it would be more salutary than anything President Reagan or anyone else could say to him on the subject.