Dozens of world leaders gathered here Tuesday to attend today's funeral of President Konstantin U. Chernenko and to size up Mikhail S. Gorbachev, his 54-year-old successor as Soviet leader.
For some, it was the third time in less than three years that they had come to Moscow to attend the funeral of a Soviet president, but Gorbachev's relative youth and apparent good health make it likely that he will be leading the Soviet Union for many years, increasing the importance of post-funeral discussions with him.
Thousands of ordinary Muscowvites lined up in the cold to file past Chernenko's body, lying in state in the black-draped Hall of Columns, an 18th-Century mansion a few blocks from the Kremlin. They arrived by the busload, usually from their workplaces, for the ritual viewing and, during most of the day, had to wait in line for several hours.
Many of them had also filed past the biers of Presidents Yuri V. Andropov in 1984 and Leonid I. Brezhnev in 1982, witnessing the Soviet Union's three leadership changes in 28 months.
Vice President George Bush arrived Tuesday night with Secretary of State George P. Shultz, and he was said by White House officials to be carrying a message to Gorbachev from President Reagan proposing a summit meeting between the two leaders.
"I have brought a message to Moscow and it is a message of peace," Bush said upon arrival at Sheremetyevo Airport, 18 miles north of the city. "We have no greater hopes and no greater goal than to create a more stable and more constructive relationship with the Soviet Union.
"President Reagan will spare no effort in the pursuit of that objective. It will take patience and it will take persistence, because we do recognize that the Soviet Union and the United States differ on many important questions.
"We are ready to bridge those differences and we hope the new Soviet leadership is equally committed to finding solutions to the problems that confront us," the vice president said.
Meanwhile, Gorbachev pushed Chernenko off the front pages Tuesday in an abrupt departure from tradition. In the past, the deaths of Soviet leaders have always been reported on black-bordered front pages of every newspaper, from the Communist Party's Pravda to Rural Life. In Tuesday's editions, however, Chernenko's photograph and tributes were shunted to a black-bordered Page 2 instead.
The front pages were dominated by a picture of Gorbachev, together with his biography and an account of his speedy selection as general secretary of the Communist Party, the Soviet Union's most powerful position. (He is widely expected to be also chosen as head of state, or president. This would give him the same two posts held by Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko.)
The similarity of the page layout in the various newspapers indicted that the editors had been ordered to put Gorbachev on Page 1 and Chernenko on Page 2.
Both the newspaper layouts and the no-nonsense tone of Gorbachev's acceptance speech on Monday indicated that he will be a take-charge leader, in marked contrast to Chernenko's more pedestrian style.
While Gorbachev gave the obligatory eulogy for his predecessor, the bulk of the speech was a spirited pep talk to party leaders about his own objectives.
"We are to achieve a decisive turn in transferring the national economy to the tracks of intensive development," he said. "We should, we are bound to attain within the briefest period the most advanced scientific and technical positions, the highest world level in the productivity of social labor."
Then, in what would appear to be a more controversial proposal, Gorbachev said: "The improvement of living conditions of people should be based on their growing contribution to the common cause."
That suggested some form of incentive to reward the most productive workers, in contrast to the prevailing system of paying the same wage to all workers in similar jobs regardless of their output.
Foreign leaders expected to confer with Gorbachev after the funeral include Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher of Britain, Yasuhiro Nakasone of Japan and Rajiv Gandhi of India, as well as President Francois Mitterrand of France and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany.
In addition, leaders of Warsaw Pact nations, including Erich Honecker of East Germany and Wojciech Jaruzelski of Poland, also arrived for the funeral and consultations with the new leader, whose name is pronounced Gor-bah-CHOFF.
The Hall of Columns, with crepe hanging from chandeliers and wall lamps, was fragrant with the smell of flower wreaths and cypress boughs. A symphony orchestra played and Chernenko's widow, Anna, sat with other family members in a special section.