2 First Ladies Hit It Off Like Old Friends : Wives: Barbara Bush and Raisa Gorbachev clasp hands and smile outside White House. And the First Dog was a winner, too.


The only clash between the American and Soviet first ladies on Thursday was in the color of their jackets.

Barbara Bush, in lime green, and Raisa Gorbachev, in berry red, greeted each other like longtime friends at a White House ceremony opening the superpower summit meeting. Later, at a tea in the White House family quarters, Mrs. Gorbachev further endeared herself to Mrs. Bush by warming up to an important member of the Bush clan.

Millie, the Bushes' much-beloved, black-and-white English springer spaniel, apparently rested comfortably on the Soviet First Lady's foot as she and Barbara Bush had tea and a 35-minute talk.

"Mrs. Gorbachev and Millie bonded," explained a White House spokesman, adding later, "Millie quivered with pleasure from her head to wherever."

The first ladies clasped hands and smiled at each other the moment they said hello outside the White House doors. Then, with Barbara Bush escorting her Soviet counterpart by lightly touching her back, the two women walked onto the South Lawn, where an array of military bands, dignitaries and photographers awaited the first couples. Although the two had met before while Bush was vice president, this was their first encounter as first ladies.

Throughout their contacts Thursday, which began with the morning ceremony and ended at a White House state dinner, there were no reports of the tensions that plagued the relationship between Raisa Gorbachev and previous First Lady Nancy Reagan.

In fact, it was President Bush who first made note of his delight at Raisa Gorbachev's presence by ending his brief welcoming speech with a compliment to her. The President noted that Gorbachev had brought not only beautiful weather, but "you brought Mrs. Gorbachev. That brings joy to our hearts. A hearty welcome to her as well." This remark, plus a round of applause, prompted the first ladies to begin chatting with the help of an interpreter.

Although the discussions between the two women were deemed "private" by White House officials, word leaked out that some serious topics were broached.

Susan Baker, Secretary of State James A. Baker III's wife, who also attended the tea, said that Raisa Gorbachev talked about the economic and political conditions in the Soviet Union. "She expressed concern and also great hope," said Mrs. Baker.

Later in the afternoon, Raisa Gorbachev, after changing her outfit, struck out on her own.

At a ceremony at the Library of Congress, she opened an exhibit of rare, 15th-Century Russian manuscripts brought to America by Occidental Petroleum Chairman Armand Hammer.

"We do hold dear everything you will see in this exhibit," she said. Quoting Maxim Gorky, she added that books are "one of the wonders from among the wonders of mankind."

Raisa Gorbachev concluded her public appearances Thursday with a 30-minute visit to the Capital Children's Museum, where she played computer games with the grandson of U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Jack F. Matlock and watched schoolchildren perform their version of the Mexican hat dance.

Surrounded by a crush of photographers that at times seemed to overwhelm her, the Soviet First Lady remained calm.

"She's extremely self-possessed," said Ann Lewin, founder-director of the 10-year-old museum in one of Washington's seedier neighborhoods not far from the U.S. Capitol.

She stopped to chat with several children and older people involved in the work of the museum. Raisa Gorbachev presented a gift of a ceramic whale, the hero of a Russian folk legend.

Times staff writer William J. Eaton contributed to this report.

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