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At Lunch with Gorbachev: Flattery, Joshing and Caviar

May 31, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Mikhail S. Gorbachev used a wily politician’s old trick to win over his audience at lunch: flatter them and call out to some by name.

There was Henry Kissinger and Gorbachev ribbed him gently, calling him, ″my old man who always contests things.″

There was musician Van Cliburn, ″and,″ said Gorbachev, ″I heartily welcome him here, because he has done much to promote understanding between our two peoples.″

Cliburn was accompanied by his mother, Rildia Bee, who will be 94 in October. The concert pianist responded to Gorbachev’s greeting, saying how much he appreciated Gorbachev’s hospitality in the Soviet Union last summer.

He said Gorbachev’s attendance at his concert there ″thrilled all my friends in Texas.″

There was John Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard economist. Gorbachev called him ″a wise man, being loaded with knowledge.″

The Soviet president twitted him, too, noting that Galbraith had switched to another table ″so that we could see him better.″

The occasion was a chicken kiev and caviar lunch at the Soviet Embassy. It came between summit session one and two.

The guests, bearing invitations in oversized envelopes, climbed a wide carpeted staircase in the old mansion, passed a portrait of a glaring Lenin, and sat down at round tables covered with pink linen and laden with china and were treated to a long, long rambling welcome from their host.

His theme: the age of Soviet-American alienation is over.

″We are living in one civilization,″ he said, ″regardless of all the differences that we have - and I believe the differences are not a liability, it is a plus to a certain extent because it provides a good foundation for reaching a higher level plane of knowledge...″

The flattery came when Gorbachev called his guests ″members of the American intellectual community.″

Some would fit that title - certainly Galbraith, certainly cowboy-boot clad Stephen Cohen of Princeton, one of America’s keenest analysts of the Soviet system - but most probably would reject being called intellectuals.

The old Hollywood was represented by Gregory Peck. From the new Hollywood came Jane Fonda, wearing a short and clingy orange suit and holding hands with her latest escort, cable television mogul Ted Turner.

Raisa Gorbachev reportedly had especially wanted to meet some movie stars.

It was an eclectic group. Jesse Jackson was the only out-and-out politician. The Washington cultural community was represented by James Billington, the Librarian of Congress and also a noted Sovietologist, and by Robert McC. Adams, head of the Smithsonian.

Also present: Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of a U.S. president, and her Soviet husband, physicist Roald Sagdeev, and Pamela Harriman, doyenne of the Democratic Party and widow of FDR’s wartime ambassador to Moscow; science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, two authors who, Gorbachev said, turning on the flattery again, were his daughter’s ″favorites.″

Mingling among the guests were 40 Soviet members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Wesley Posvar, president of the University of Pittsburgh, said the fact they were flown to Washington just for the occasion was important, ″more than symbolic.″

After lunch, Kissinger said the affair was a disaster - ″for my diet.″

He called Gorbachev ″serene.″ The Rev. Leo J. O’Donovan, president of Georgetown University, said the Soviet leader was extraordinarily relaxed ″and a smile played constantly around his mouth.″

For Cliburn, the occasion must have brought forth old memories. He won a reputation and esteem for American musicianship when he won the Tschaikowsky music competition in Moscow in 1958 and was welcomed home as a national hero, ″the new American Sputnik.″

During Gorbachev’s first American summit, with Ronald Reagan in December 1987, American ″intellectuals″ were also Gorbachev’s guests at a mix-and- mingle reception at the embassy. Kissinger was there then too.

Last time, Yoko Ono and Billy Graham were guests. Ms. Ono wasn’t there this time, and religion was represented this time by Robert Schuller, the televangelist who has been asked to prepare 12 spiritual messages to be aired on television to the Soviet people over the next year.

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