In Helsinki, Reagan’s Task Is to Relax

Times Staff Writer

On his way to Moscow, President Reagan came Wednesday to this small European capital, set in a scenic, lake-dotted region, for one overriding reason: It is, in the words of one top aide, “a place where you can go and do no heavy lifting.”

That supreme qualification--a low-pressure environment--is a central theme of the complex effort made by Administration officials to prepare the President for his impending fourth superpower summit and a capstone event in his foreign policy.

The image of Reagan dozing off during a Vatican audience with Pope John Paul II in 1982 is one of the more visible and embarrassing examples of what can happen when he goes overseas and finds himself in a series of demanding settings with too many events crammed into his schedule.

In planning this long-anticipated 10-day trip, aides acknowledge that they have taken pains to moderate the pace so that when the time comes for “heavy lifting"--across the table from Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev in Moscow--Reagan will be refreshed and well prepared.

‘Taken Our Hits’

“We’ve taken our hits for it, but what counts is what comes out in the end,” said one staff member who has worked to cull out potential activities. With the focus firmly on the approximately six hours that Reagan will spend in meetings with Gorbachev, who is 20 years his junior, “we’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that when the President gets (there), he’s well rested,” the aide said. “Time adjusted, we call it.”


Rather, there have been months of extensive meetings, multiple trips to Moscow by staff members to negotiate arrangements and the drafting of a virtual minute-by-minute breakdown of what will happen.

Even in the early years of his presidency, White House aides prepared visual displays for Reagan before a foreign journey to brace him for the experience, including “photos of sites to show him where he’d be and what he would be doing,” one former Reagan assistant said.

Elaborate Preparations

But this time, facing a final-year diplomatic venture that could bear upon his historical legacy, the preparations have been particularly elaborate.

A mixed-media show of still pictures, videotapes and moderated discussions have been provided for him on the places, people and events on the schedule, to head off possible gaffes.

For the most serious issues to be encountered in Moscow, the National Security Council staff has assembled digests of key information from a variety of government agencies, including the State Department and the CIA. Reagan has been reviewing them “during the days and evenings,” a senior White House staff member said.

In recent weeks, a virtual parade of non-governmental experts on Soviet affairs has filed through the White House for round-table sessions on such subjects as the treatment of religion in the Soviet Union and human rights and regional concerns that go beyond the scope of the direct U.S.-Soviet relationship.

No Primer Needed

On the subject of reducing the superpowers’ nuclear arsenals, perhaps the most difficult and crucial subject of the Moscow meetings, one senior White House official said: “I don’t think you need a primer on arms control. The President knows where he wants to go.”

But a dominant priority for White House planners all along has been making sure that once the trip is under way, weighty issues do not occupy too much of the President’s time: Hence, Helsinki. The countryside is idyllic, and the politics pose no pressing challenges.

There are no events on Reagan’s schedule here until a formal welcoming ceremony Friday. It will be followed by a meeting with President Mauno Koivisto and then a speech on human rights and East-West relations. He arrived this morning at 1:10 local time, during the hours of darkness that envelopes Finland only briefly in the late spring. The northernmost part of Finland, within the Arctic Circle, is part of the “Land of the Midnight Sun.”

Every accommodation has been made to keep the agenda clear. Even the five-minute radio address Reagan delivers each Saturday is being recorded in advance to remove that possible distraction.

Private Talk Requested

One small complication emerged when the Finns, who are given high marks by the White House for being extremely gracious, made one small request--for the private talk between Reagan and Koivisto. White House officials immediately compensated. They decided to add an extra day to Reagan’s trip so that he would still have at least one full day, today, with no scheduled activities.

While in Helsinki, the President and First Lady Nancy Reagan will stay in the state guest house on the grounds of the Hotel Kalastajatorppa--the Finnish word for “fisherman’s hut,” the 19th-Century domicile on the property.

The guest house, completed four years ago, has four tastefully appointed suites, six other rooms, a dining room with space for 20, a sauna and a swimming pool. Recent guests have included President Francois Mitterrand of France, Prince Philip of Great Britain, Crown Prince Akihito of Japan and King Hussein of Jordan.

“It really is a neat house--very Scandinavian,” said one U.S. official who visited it. The heated pool was described in a White House brochure as “small” but by this official as “huge.” A refrigerator nearby was stocked with cold beer on a recent visit.

The quarters is one of the many things on which Reagan has been briefed in preparation for the trip.

It is a relaxing setting “that will make it easier to concentrate on one issue,” away from other pressures, one Administration official said.

“If you get him in an environment in which he and Mrs. Reagan are in a rest period, people are reluctant to infringe on it. Even the secretary of state would be reluctant to knock on his door and say ‘I need you for 10 minutes,’ ” the official said.