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Brezhnev (left) and Nixon (right) stand together at the White House during a 1973 summit. (Post file photo)

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  • Brezhnev Says Goodbye to U.S. Till Next Time

    By Robert G. Kaiser
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    June 26, 1973

    Waving a last farewell with both hands clasped above his head, Leonid I. Brezhnev said goodbye to the United States at Andrews Air Force Base yesterday morning and flew off to Paris.

    Brezhnev's four-engine Ilyushin-62 jetliner took off from Andrews at 11:50 o'clock after a brief ceremony on the tarmac. It featured an honor guard, a marching band, an ear-splitting 21-gun salute and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, who told the Soviet leader that, "it has been an honor to welcome you to our country."

    Brezhnev replied with a brief speech on the importance of the summit meeting and his hopes for the future of Soviet-American relations. Ad-libbing an afterthought when his translator had finished repeating his remarks in English, Brezhnev concluded, "until our next meeting!"

    The ad lib was one of very few during the last eight days. As he has on every occasion during the summit, Brezhnev reached in his pocket for eyeglasses and notes before he began to speak.

    The atmosphere was warm, but also controlled -- just as it had been since Brezhnev's arrival. The only ordinary citizens in view were Air Force personnel and their families -- perhaps 200 people -- who watched the farewell ceremony from behind a fence, more than 100 yards from the Soviet leader and the officials who saw him off.

    That was about as close as ordinary Americans ever got to the leader of the Soviet Communist Party. His visit here must have been one of the most restricted and protected that a foreign leader has made to the United States.

    Brezhnev recognized this himself and apologized for it in his speech to the American people broadcast Sunday night. The White House and Brezhnev both agreed that on his next visit he would meet ordinary folk and see something of the country.

    In his entire life Brezhnev has spent barely three weeks in the West, in visits to France, West Germany and the United States.

    On each of these trips he has emphasized official conversations and shunned virtually every opportunity to mingle with people or see how they live. He has never given a real press conference.

    Nevertheless, television allowed Brezhnev to leave a strong impression on the United States. His relaxed, avuncular manner, soft monotone and sense of humor have been more visible during eight days here than in the past two years in Moscow.

    This was undoubtedly deliberate. The last Soviet leader known to Americans was Nikita S. Khrushchev, whose bluster and threats seemed to conform to the worst cold war image of a dangerous communist. Brezhnev struck a very different pose for an American public that had little idea of what he was like before this trip.

    He didn't make a single threat, or even an ominous remark. There was no criticism of the American way of life, no boasting of Soviet might, no hint of the vast differences in values that still divide the two superpowers. Instead, there were pantomime jokes with President Nixon and a jump into the arms of actor Chuck Connors.

    He was prepared to try to project his personality in a way he has never attempted at home, perhaps because his colleagues in the ruling politburo aren't as interested in charisma as is the American public.

    Whether he will now try to advertise his personal qualities in the Soviet Union remains to be seen. Brezhnev has not yet made a strong impression on his fellow countrymen and anecdotes about him tend to center on his eyebrows, not his personality or politics.

    It also remains to be seen whether Brezhnev's limited exposure to the West will give him any new appreciation for how Western societies operate. On the eve of his departure from Moscow for Washington, he gave an example of the limits of his own understanding.

    Talking about the dispute over Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union, Brezhnev told a group of American correspondents that the Soviet Union had regulations prohibiting someone who had worked with "state secrets" from emigrating. Brezhnev said he was sure the United States had a similar regulation.

    "It would have been interesting," said Brezhnev in his televised speech, "to visit New York and Chicago and Detroit and Los Angeles, to see some of your industrial projects and farms, to talk to American working people..."

    Brezhnev and Mr. Nixon have agreed, it appears, on the desirability of annual summits. "Perhaps," Brezhnev said, "the future will offer an opportunity" to see what he missed this time and for more Americans to see him.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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