East, West Leaders Mourn Chernenko’s Death
Leaders of the East and West offered condolences Monday on the death of Soviet leader Konstantin U. Chernenko and praised him for improving superpower relations.
Government leaders--including President Francois Mitterrand of France, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain, Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India--prepared to fly to Moscow for Chernenko’s funeral on Wednesday.
In Stockholm, the 35-nation European disarmament conference observed a minute’s silence and suspended normal business for a day.
However, reactions there and around the world were generally muted after several months of speculation that the Soviet leader was terminally ill.
There was near unanimous agreement that the death of Chernenko and the selection of Mikhail S. Gorbachev as his successor would produce no change in Soviet foreign policy.
“The Soviet leadership has always been marked by collective decision-making, at least since the Khrushchev era,” Kohl said.
Chernenko, who died two days before the start of arms control talks in Geneva between the Soviet Union and the United States, was widely credited with helping create an atmosphere in which better East-West relations looked possible.
United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar paid tribute to the Communist leader’s “genuine interest in a peaceful solution of international problems.”
Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme expressed hope that the Geneva nuclear arms talks would lead to an improved international climate.
In Peking, the Chinese foreign ministry hailed Chernenko as an outstanding Soviet leader who presided over an improvement in Sino-Soviet ties.
The statement added: “Over the past year, exchanges between China and the Soviet Union have increased noticeably in various fields. We hope that these positive tendencies in Sino-Soviet relations will further develop.”
Vice Premier Li Peeng was named to head the Chinese delegation to the funeral. Li is not a Politburo member and is lower in rank than Vice-Premier Wan Li, who flew to Moscow last year when Soviet leader Yuri V. Andropov died.
East Bloc Allies
The Soviet Union’s East Bloc allies quickly carried the news on their official media Monday morning.
Prague radio broke into a program of mournful music with the announcement, calling Chernenko “a great fighter for peace and understanding among people.”
In Sofia, black streamers were hung on East Bloc flags around the Bulgarian capital and the radio piped a constant stream of funeral music.
East Germany called Chernenko an outstanding personality of the Communist Party and Soviet state. It decreed a day of public mourning throughout the country on Wednesday.
Hungary concentrated on the prospects of Gorbachev as Chernenko’s successor. Officials in Budapest said Gorbachev was an impressive figure to the Hungarians, who had particularly admired his style during his recent trip to Britain.
They said Chernenko’s death was arousing matter-of-fact responses from the public, since it had long been expected.
In London, Thatcher released a statement saying: “Although he held the highest office for a relatively short time, his loss has deprived the Soviet Union of an experienced leader.”
Thatcher made no immediate comment on the appointment of Gorbachev as the new general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.
In the Far East, Japan and Australia joined other Asian and Pacific countries in expressing regret at Chernenko’s passing. None foresaw any immediate changes in Kremlin policy.
India’s Gandhi, whose government announced he would attend the funeral, declared three days of mourning for Chernenko from today.
In Damascus, Syrian President Hafez Assad expressed thanks for Chernenko’s “keenness on strengthening ties of friendship and cooperation between Syria and the Soviet Union, and supporting our people against Israeli occupation and aggressive imperialist-Israeli designs.”
The Soviet Union is Syria’s main arms supplier under a 1980 friendship and cooperation treaty.
Iraq announced three days of official mourning. The official Iraqi news agency said President Saddam Hussein had sent a cable of condolence to Soviet leaders.
Other European nations sending messages of sympathy to the Kremlin included Spain, Italy, and Portugal. At the Vatican, Pope John Paul prayed for the dead leader and sent a telegram of condolences.
Other world leaders who have confirmed they will attend Chernenko’s funeral include Finnish President Mauno Koivisto, Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal, Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu, Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and Pakistan’s General Zia ul-Haq.
In Los Angeles, Armand Hammer, chairman and chief executive officer of Occidental Petroleum Corp., who met with Chernenko last Dec. 4, praised the Soviet leader as “a warm-hearted man who demonstrated his concern for good relations with the United States and for world peace.”