American industrialist Armand Hammer said Thursday that it is only a matter of time before President Reagan holds a summit meeting with new Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Hammer, who has long had close business ties to the Soviet Union, predicted a period of rapidly improving Soviet-American relations with the elevation of Gorbachev, who succeeded the late Konstantin U. Chernenko.
"This man is dynamic, he's full of energy, full of desire to make a change," Hammer said of the 54-year-old Gorbachev. "I sense a whole new era beginning."
Hammer, the 86-year-old chairman and chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp., did not have a private meeting with Gorbachev. But he talked at length with the newly chosen Communist Party general secretary Wednesday at a reception after Chernenko's funeral.
Asked how he knows whether Gorbachev is ready to meet with Reagan, Hammer said: "This was conveyed to me by others who were present at the meeting between Mr. Gorbachev and Vice President (George) Bush.
"I believe now it's only a question of time before such a meeting will take place," he added in an interview aboard his corporate Boeing 727 jet before departing for Los Angeles.
"I think it (the summit meeting) will be sometime this year," he went on. "I hope it will happen in May when President Reagan will be in Europe and I am certainly going to try my best to bring that about. . . . The sooner that it takes place, the better."
Without such a meeting, Hammer said, the nuclear arms control talks in Geneva may bog down or drag on inconclusively. "If the two leaders have met and have established a good relationship, it would be easier for them to communicate with their negotiators and straighten out any difficulties," he explained.
The industrialist has been a persistent advocate of U.S.-Soviet summit talks. Last December, he said, Chernenko was willing to meet with Reagan, but the American President balked, insisting on an agenda and other arrangements, according to Hammer.