When it comes to U.S.-Soviet relations, Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney continues to make no secret that he likes the label of "hard-liner."

He has struggled to maintain this credential while lagging behind other senior presidential advisers in recognizing the new era in U.S.-Soviet relations under Mikhail Gorbachev, a man whose downfall Cheney has predicted repeatedly.

During a breakfast meeting with reporters yesterday, Cheney admitted that he had recently made a list of things the Soviets would have to do to win over his skeptical heart.

"I sat down," Cheney said, "to lay out a number of indicators that I would take as hard evidence that the Soviets have in fact fundamentally transformed themselves; that they were moving in the direction of permanently less threatening, less hostile force where the United States was concerned."

This was the issue on which Cheney earlier this year clashed with CIA Director William H. Webster. The Central Intelligence Agency said the revolution in Eastern Europe and the social upheaval building in the Soviet Union would irreversibly diminish the future Soviet military threat. Cheney strongly disagreed, and other members of the Bush administration have been awaiting his conversion.

In drawing up a list of "nine or ten items," Cheney told reporters, "I wanted to be tough. I mean these were markers I wanted to put out down there that we could focus on for the next several months or years and help shape the debate; {things} that would clearly identify the kinds of changes we'd like to see in Soviet policy and behavior."

"So these were not standards easily achieved," Cheney emphasized.

He paused, looked at the reporters and said, "They did three of them last week."

"They accepted a reunified Germany. They accepted a reunited Germany in NATO. And they agreed to get all their troops out of Eastern Europe," Cheney recounted.

An uneasy silence settled over the table as some journalists wondered whether Cheney was formally announcing the changing of his stripes.

One reporter asked many items the secretary now has checked off his list.

The old Cheney smiled. "I keep adding. Everytime they do one, I add another one."