Vice President Bush claimed a long-awaited political prize yesterday in the Gold Room of the Soviet Embassy.
There he met Mikhail Gorbachev face to face over mounds of caviar, sour cream and blini. He introduced American guests from Iowa, New Hampshire and Texas. They talked about farming, high technology and energy in a breakfast session that is destined to find its way immediately into the vice president's campaign speeches.
After an unexpected delay while Gorbachev consulted privately with advisers, the Soviet leader then provided his guest with an additional bonus on the way to the White House. They climbed out of Gorbachev's limousine at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW and worked the crowd, waving together in a running-mates' embrace -- a scene right out of the American political handbook.
For Bush, the meeting was another carefully planned event in a campaign that has sought to highlight his foreign policy experience and his support of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed this week by Gorbachev and President Reagan. He was the only Republican presidential candidate to win the attention of Gorbachev for a full-scale meeting, although his chief rival, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) claimed eight minutes alone with the Soviet leader.
While Bush said he had not politicized the session, a Dole spokeswoman accused the vice president of making it "so blatantly political it defies description." Spokeswoman Katie Boyle said, "I'm surprised Bush didn't invite Gorbachev to Des Moines for a fund-raiser."
This comment rankled Bush advisers who nonetheless acknowledged the obvious political overtones of the event.
Within hours of the breakfast, Bush was putting it to advantage. He used a satellite link to conduct interviews with five local television stations about his meeting -- four of the stations were in Iowa or New Hampshire markets. Bush has appeared on one network television broadcast every morning of the summit. He also accompanied Gorbachev to Andrews Air Force Base last night and participated in the farewell ceremony.
As with the meetings he held in Poland with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, the vice president is planning to recall the Gorbachev breakfast session in his campaign speeches. He leaves today for two days of events of Iowa, including an address on U.S.-Soviet relations on Saturday morning at the University of Iowa.
Bush had 23 minutes alone with Gorbachev in the Red Room after arriving at the embassy, and they talked about Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf and arms control, a source said. Then they moved to the Gold Room for breakfast. Bush had invited his New Hampshire campaign chairman, Gov. John H. Sununu, who also is chairman of the National Governors' Association; former U.S. representative Cooper Evans of Iowa, a Bush supporter; Robert Brooks, principal of Valley High School in Des Moines, which has a student letter exchange with Soviet students; Mayor Henry Cisneros of San Antonio, and Dr. Mary Good, president of the American Chemical Society here.
According to a participant, the guests parried with Gorbachev throughout the breakfast. Sununu, a supporter of the controversial Seabrook nuclear power plant, talked about nuclear power with the Soviet leader. The participant quoted Gorbachev as telling Sununu that the "devastation" of the Chernobyl nuclear accident "was even greater reason to advance our talks on nuclear weapons."
Evans, the former congressman, pressed Gorbachev on whether American soybean growers should plan on greater production with hopes of selling more to the Soviets, according to the participant. Gorbachev responded that the Soviets have a storage problem, and said many Soviets are afraid to rely on the United States as a food source, an apparent reference to the grain embargo imposed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Bush, widely viewed to be running second in Iowa behind Dole, then made a pitch to the Soviet leader that is certain to be greeted warmly by Iowa farmers. According to the participant, Bush said there is "widespread recognition that agricultural products should not be a political weapon and I know of no one in this administration nor anyone who might head a future administration who would advocate using grain as a weapon."
In a discussion of high technology with Cisneros, Gorbachev said the Soviets have "learned lessons" about importing technology, the participant said. He suggested that Soviet technology purchases in the West had weakened the Soviet machine-building industry, calling this an "import plague." Gorbachev said efforts are being made to improve Soviet capabilities, according to the participant.
Gorbachev also touted Soviet progress in high-technology computers, saying five "supercomputer" projects are under way and he has placed a priority on putting computers in schools.
Before reporters were ushered out, Bush was asked whether he wasn't playing politics by inviting guests from Iowa and New Hampshire. Bush smilingly countered that Sununu was elected to the governors' association post by Republicans and Democrats.
When a reporter noted that his guests seemed to be concentrated in the two states with early presidential campaign tests, Bush noted that Cisneros was from Texas.
The vice president held up three fingers. "Three states," he said.