Los Angeles Times

Gorbachev Handles Washington Like an Old Pol
Steals Media Sideshow With Dynamic Energy

Times Staff Writer

Washington -- Although he was a first-time visitor to this national capital. Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev has worked it like an old pol. He skipped the tourist stops and got right down to business with American movers and shakers.

""Even in this concrete jungle, you can do certain things," Gorbachev contided to one of his guests during his four day visit, which ended Thursday.

Whatever he accomplished toward his larger goals on arms control, he certainly established himself as a forceful, and dynamic presence to a nationwide American audience.

Unprecedented Coverage

The 56-year-old Kremlin leader, skillfully capitalizing on the opportunity opportunity created by the Washington summit, received unprecedented American television and newspaper coverage for himself and his foreign policy. And for the most part, the impact appears to be favorable.

White House officials concede that the energetic visitor stole the media show. President Reagan, as he did at the 1985 Geneva summit, kept a low profile in public while Gorbachev combined the formal talks with a whirlwind series of get-togethers with influential opinion-makers.

He ignored the far right but tried to woo almost everyone else, from moderates to ultra-liberals, with a blend of candor, charm and bluster. Even though enveloped by a security cocoon at the White House and the Soviet Embassy, Gorbachev reached out through television

Plunges Into Crowd

And on Thursday, in a Western version of his well-known Soviet walkabouts, he went so far as to stop his motorcade on Connecticut Avenue. In downtown Washington, and plunge into a crowd to greet bystanders. "The Secret Service went crazy," said Leslie Kobylinski, an employee of the US Chamber of Commerce who spoke with the Soviet leader.

Much to their surprise the American congressmen, - editors, business leaders and academic and cultural leaders who met Gorbachev for the first time found him to be a forceful, even combative man who is tar from unwilling to criticize the host country.

On the one hand, he has preached his "new thinking" gospel of a nulcear-free world where Soviet and American youngsters can frolic in peaceful pursuits. Yet, he also has been scathing in critical of United States calls for further improvement in the Soviet Union's human rights record. He pointed an accusatory finger, for example, at the United States for its problem with the homeless.

Help From Dobrynin

Kremlinologists suggested that Anatoly F. Dobrynin the former Soviet ambassador who was stationed in Washington for 24 years, was the key to Gorbachev's success In understanding and dealing with the U. S. power structure both inside and outside the government.

By knowing the leading political figures or, a first-name basis, Dobrynin -- now a top foreign policy adviser in the Kremlin -- was able to provide Gorbachev with detailed information that other Soviet experts, more attuned to scholarly analysis of publications, failed to offer.

Alexander N. Yakovlev, a member of the ruling Politburo and chief propagandist for the Soviet Union, also had a hand in the planning of Gorbachev's schedule. Aware of the American media's wide-open, competitive nature, it was easy for Yakovlev and others to exploit their opportunities and minimize the hazards.

For example, US television cameras were allowed to operate while Gorbachev was making a speech earlier this week to a group of writers, scholars and intellectuals. When the time for potentially embarrassing questions arrived, however, no TV coverage was permitted.

The Kremlin leader was not spared all embarrassing questions, however he is more than able to deed with them, as he illustrated several times in exchanges concerning human rights and emigration.

The United States, he suggested, limits Mexican immigration and should not be giving lectures on public morality.

"I am not on trial here," Gorbachev declared at another point.

Gorbachev by far the most articulate exponent of Soviet policies ... he captured the imagination of Americans In this, the first visit by a Soviet leader in more than 14 years.

"You are learning that he doesn't have horns and is nobody's fool,"" a Soviet journalist told an American colleague.

Armand Hammer, the chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corp., who has been an intermediary between the Kremlin and the White House, said Gorbachev's visit will help to persuade all Americans of his sincerity.

Clearly, improvement of the Soviet-American relationship stands high in Kremlin priorities although Gorbachev earlier declared that he wanted to put higher emphasis on improving ties within the Communist bloc and with Western Europe.

Dramatic Impact

Gorbachev has a dramatic effect on his listeners. Senate Republician leader Bob Dole of Kansas, who said earlier this week that he did not trust Gorbachev, was impressed enough by his brief private meeting with the Soviet leader to promise he would work for a "big vote" in the Senate in favor of the intermediate nuclear forces treaty.

"Fascinating, extraordinary." commented Sen. Alan Simon a Wyoming Representative, known for his cool judgment, after meeting Gorbachev. "He was not defensive at all."

"He ain't no dummy, that's for sure," agreed House Republican Leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois, who was one of the leading opponents of a Gorbachev speech to a joint session of Congress.

"We have to be very careful not to be swept off our feet." cautioned Senate Democratic Leader Robert C. Byrd (W.Vir).

Gorbachev's blend of passionate appeals for better U.S.--Soviet relations and blunt talk in defense of the Soviet system had an equally dramatic impact on publishers and editors who had a separate session with him at the Soviet Embassy, normally a forbidding place with shutters drawn against the outside world.

"All we have proved in the past 40 years is that we can live without each other,' Gorbachev told them. "Is that what we need to prove? This week, I feel we are moving in the right direction. We are conducting a dialogue which befits two great nations. We are dealing less in platitudes and more in real issues."

Thus along with the task of eliminating intermediate-range missiles, Gorbachev apparently took home with him a new and even higher standing with the American public.