Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev appealed yesterday to a group of top U.S. business leaders to help thaw economic relations between the two superpowers.
In a frank discussion with 70 business executives, including the heads of major corporations such as Pepsico, AT&T, and Xerox, Gorbachev entreated the United States to drop trade restrictions and to grant the Soviet Union the same "most favored nation" status that other U.S. trading partners have, participants reported.
In his news conference last night, Gorbachev revealed that the summit's joint communique will include the need to reduce American restrictions on U.S.-Soviet economic cooperation, most of them ordered by Congress. "You can't conduct a political dialogue without strengthening economic ties," he asserted.
Gorbachev apparently chose to address the group because he has set as a high priority upgrading the lackluster Soviet economy by bringing in western technology and expertise.
"It's a great beginning," said industrialist Armand Hammer, who heads Occidental Petroleum Corp., which has announced a joint venture for the largest petroleum complex ever built in the Soviet Union.
Hammer said the treaty eliminating medium- and shorter-range nuclear missiles, signed by Gorbachev and President Reagan, "sets the stage for improvements in economic relations to come." Hammer, who knew Lenin, has been involved in trade with the Soviets for more than 70 years.
Gorbachev pressed yesterday for increased trade between the two countries and repeal of U.S. restrictions, specifically the 1972 Jackson-Vanik amendment that ties trade to increased Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. Gorbachev also asked the United States to drop "onerous tariffs," said Charles E. Hugel, president of Combustion Engineering Inc., a Connecticut petroleum engineering firm that is the first U.S. company to conclude a joint venture under new rules set by Gorbachev's regime.
"He did make quite a point about concern about the consistency of trade without political intervention," Hugel said. Gorbachev cited particularly the "enormous impression" made on the Soviet people when President Jimmy Carter ordered a grain embargo after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
"Their people suffered as a result of that . . . and it has left them with concern about doing business with us," he said. "Every time we take this kind of action all it does is cut off the opportunity for American companies to do business around the world and the void is filled by companies of other countries," he said.
Bill Andrews, Chairman of SSMC, formerly Singer Sewing Machine Co., said Gorbachev made it clear that joint ventures will help the Soviet leader implement his reforms by setting a management example. "By entering joint ventures, people throughout the country would get a different attitude about work," he said. But Gorbachev remained unbending on allowing U.S. companies to set up shop on Soviet soil without Soviet participation. Allen F. Jacobson, chairman of 3M Corp., said Gorbachev "talked mainly about joint ventures rather than the broad range of specialized industry that it takes to make an economy like ours tick or being able to have our own business out there."
3M has no plans to form a joint venture with the Soviet Union, but Jacobson recounted some of Gorbachev's talent for salesmanship and public relations.
"I told him our company makes Scotch brand tape . . . and he grabbed me and told me, 'You have a good business. We'd like you to sell Scotch tape in our country,' " Jacobson said.
Participants in the meeting described Gorbachev as intelligent, forceful and charismatic and said he spoke without notes. "He is a great communicator," said Walter C. Klein, chairman of Bunge Corp., a big grain and food processing company.