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Gorbachev Still the Boss, Baker Says : Soviet Union: Turmoil at home has not diminished the Kremlin leader’s authority to make agreements, the secretary of state asserts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The turmoil in the Soviet Union has not diminished Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s authority to sign treaties and conduct foreign relations, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Sunday as the capital prepared for the Soviet president’s visit this week.

Despite Gorbachev’s weakness at home, “he can deliver if we lock in on agreements that we think are mutually advantageous,” Baker said. “If he’s overthrown subsequently, at least you have an agreement there that will make it harder for the successor government to reverse those things.”

Baker was reacting to criticism here that the Bush Administration was being too sympathetic with and undemanding of Gorbachev, who is far less popular at home than abroad and whose hold on power may grow more tenuous with worsening ethnic problems and food shortages.

The threat to Gorbachev “from the top” is less than it used to be because of Gorbachev’s new authority as president as well as Communist Party leader, Baker said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” By the “top,” he apparently meant from entrenched conservative politicians or military-security forces.

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However, “a threat from the bottom up is greater than it was before,” he added, alluding to domestic unrest and growing demands for broader and faster reforms.

Possibly reflecting the risk of a move against Gorbachev while he is abroad, Alexander Yakovlev, his closest confidant and adviser, will remain in Moscow rather than travel here with the Soviet leader for the summit.

Yakovlev said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he will not be coming “for various reasons, including personal.” He declined to elaborate.

A member of the party Politburo as well as the new Presidential Council, Yakovlev attended all previous summits with Gorbachev and had been widely expected to be at his side this week. By remaining in Moscow, he fueled speculation that Gorbachev fears opponents will attempt to take advantage of his absence--as they have in the past--to make speeches and print articles blaming him for the near-tumultuous conditions there.

Yakovlev predicted “great results” from the summit, at least in nuclear and chemical arms control agreements. “This summit has been prepared (for) very well. It will be more significant than previous ones,” he said.

U.S. and Soviet officials met throughout Sunday in an effort to resolve some of the half-dozen outstanding but relatively minor issues in the strategic arms talks. They also sought to break the current impasse on cutting conventional forces in Europe.

Although Bush has called this an “arms control summit,” Brent Scowcroft, his national security assistant, said that the “fundamental issues” during the five-day visit will be “remaking the political map of Europe and, secondly, what’s going on in the Soviet Union” in terms of lagging political and economic reforms.

Bush will try to convince Gorbachev that a united Germany should take its place within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--a solution that’s best for the West, best for the Soviet Union and best for continued peace in Europe, Scowcroft said on ABC’s “This Week With David Brinkley.”

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By all accounts, however, Gorbachev will be hard to convince on this point. He told a Time magazine interviewer last week that he strongly opposes that outcome, as well as the dominant role that he believes the United States wants NATO to play in reshaping Europe.

“Regardless of what is being said about NATO now, for us it is a symbol of the past, a dangerous and confrontational past,” Gorbachev said. “And we will never agree to assign it the leading role in building a new Europe. I want us to be understood correctly on this.”

Baker said that Gorbachev was not taking a new position, however. He refused to characterize Gorbachev’s remarks as a negotiating ploy but implied that the Soviets are seeking economic aid as well as other security assurances from West Germany in return for allowing the unified nation to become part of NATO.

Times staff writer Michael Ross contributed to this story.

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