They said they wanted to meet a "political wife," a species not really known to Soviets. Tipper Gore was suggested -- Mrs. Albert Gore Jr. -- the bouncy and savvy other half of the senator from Tennessee, and herself a public figure as head of a national crusade against pornography and violence in teen entertainment.
Ludmila Harutunian and Bikhodzhal Rakhimova smiled broadly. They had never heard of this woman, but she sounded exactly like what they had in mind. They asked this reporter, who had suggested Gore, to arrange a meeting.
The Soviet visitors -- a sociologist and an engineer, both members of the Supreme Soviet, both nearing 50, both mothers who kept working after having children -- had talked on and off all day about the need to raise the status of women in whatever society emerges from perestroika.
Now here was a chance to meet a woman from another world, one who had made a career as her husband's junior partner. If it is your business to help Mikhail Gorbachev scrap a top-down society and build a democratic one, if you think often about women's roles, if you happen to be here with the Soviet summit delegation -- this is someone you at least want to take a look at.
As they say of summits, the face-to-faceness of this meeting yielded more than anyone anticipated.
"I like politics, so it's something we can share," Gore was telling her guests, whom she hosted in her husband's office. (He was home on recess.)
Through their interpreter, she explained that she holds a master's in psychology, but has never practiced. She said she does many of the same things her husband does: "You meet people, you make speeches, you discuss issues."
She showed the women a recent family picture, a portrait of domestic bliss: the beaming Gores with their son, three daughters, three dogs.
"Are you bringing up your son to be a senator?" asked Harutunian, in deference to this blonde, fashionably dressed American who appeared to embrace traditional views of family.
"Actually," Gore answered, "I'm bringing up my daughter to be a senator."
Harutunian was delighted. "This is a brilliant answer!" she exclaimed, leaning forward in her chair, nodding. "She will do what you couldn't."
Gore appeared a bit troubled by this spin. She said with emphasis that she is happy to be the partner, to let her husband be the politician.
Harutunian pressed the point. "You are also a politician," she said.
"But I'm not elected," corrected Gore.
"It doesn't make any difference," came the reply. "Politics is not made on the stage. It's made backstage."
Gore nodded, a wordless "Touche'."
Now everyone was on common ground.
The three seemed to talk about everything, but a main theme was the desire of the Soviets to become more closely related to the United States. The visitors told Gore they questioned whether the feeling was mutual.
"Our shift to the market economy makes it imperative that we borrow some of your experiences," Harutunian said. "But all your information is written in English. Many Soviets know English but few Americans know Russian. Americans consider themselves self-sufficient. You force us to enter your system. That forms a certain inferiority complex for us that is difficult for us to accept."
Gore appeared surprised. Americans, she said, are "very excited" about the relationship. She asked Harutunian how Americans could help, and asked an assistant to take notes. The assistant soon was scribbling furiously, and would spend the rest of the week making contacts for Harutunian with experts and groups.
Harutunian told of the human toll of an earthquake that devastated her republic, Armenia, last year: 8,000 children orphaned; 1 million people sick from traumatic stress. Could America send expertise and resources? Could American retirees come to Armenia and teach farmers to farm without pesticides? Teach people to live with "environmental consciousness?"
Gore turned to the interpreter. "Does she understand we're on the brink of making those changes in this country?" she asked.
"Good," Harutunian responded. "Let's do it together."
Much of the women's talk was about American politics. Who can run? Anyone? Who stays in office longest -- mavericks or cautious types? How much do people spend on campaigns? Told by Gore that the cost is out of control, and that Congress is trying to limit it, Rakhimova asked: "But won't America lose if you curtail freedom in elections? Freedom is part of your image."
It was an echo of the very debate underway in the Senate. "You understand the issue very well," Gore said.
The political wife told the politicians one of her husband's maxims: "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize." They loved it.
"But is he not tired of this righteous life?" asked Harutunian. "The Russians would say, 'When does he have time to live?' "
"His family says the same thing sometimes," Gore said, laughing.
Eventually it was time to go. The three were effusive about their hour together. Rakhimova gave Gore a metalwork from her native Central Asia of a woman holding a deer. Harutunian gave her an album by the late Soviet protest singer, Vladimir Vysotsky, who performed in days when protest was unwelcome.
Gore gave each visitor an autographed copy of her book, "Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated Society." She extended her hand for a shake. Harutunian, beaming, rushed past it as if unable to stop herself.
The politician then kissed the political wife.