REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK : Bush Draws Conservatives' Thumbs Up With Brief, Mild Mention of Lithuania


When President Bush welcomed Mikhail S. Gorbachev in a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday, he could not refrain from including one brief passage on Lithuania.

It was not clear what Gorbachev thought about the mildly worded statement, in which Bush cited Lithuania as an issue on which the two nations still have differences and encouraged "good-faith dialogue" between Soviet and Lithuanian leaders.

Gorbachev remained impassive when Bush's remarks were translated. But Bush, in any case, obviously had another audience in mind--domestic conservatives who have criticized him for not being tough enough on the Soviets.

For this audience, Bush's remarks worked perfectly. At the mention of Lithuania, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who was in the audience on the White House South Lawn, tapped an aide on the shoulder, smiled and flashed a thumbs up sign.

No American entrepreneur has a greater interest in the political longevity of Gorbachev than Misha G. Knight, the Washington manufacturer and hawker of Gorbachev T-shirts.

Knight, who emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union a dozen years ago and changed his name from Misha Nete, is making the rounds from Lafayette Park to the National Press Club to the summit press center at George Washington University with a suitcase of his shirts.

Sporting a formal bow tie over a T-shirt, Knight, who also acts as a consultant for investors intent on doing business in the Soviet Union, explained that he writes poetry to go along with his T-shirts. One verse, printed on a shirt, brims with lyrical promise:

I went to Russia to meet the Reds.

Instead, I met people who like the New York Mets.

We are one world.

We are one world.

We like to wear Gorby T-Shirts.

Knight held up an envelope with an air ticket for San Francisco, Gorbachev's final stop in the United States.

"You have to make a living," the T-shirt man said.

The headquarters of the National Geographic Society is just across 16th Street from the Soviet Embassy, where Gorbachev is staying during the summit. But this gave the National Geographic's famous photographers no advantage in picture-taking. Security was so intense that the Secret Service even kept National Geographic photographers away from the block.

In fact, Geographic press officer Barbara Moffit said that the Secret Service had warned all employees "to stay away from the windows on the 16th Street side, that any movement there would be considered threatening."

Dozens of curious onlookers had to congregate on the street corners a block away from the embassy itself in hopes of catching a glimpse of Gorbachev or the American celebrities, such as Gregory Peck and Jane Fonda, whom he had invited to lunch.

Police sealed off the entire street with yellow tape. Uniformed officers were stationed on all four corners, and anti-terrorist concrete barriers were placed in the intersections.

Suppose you are President of the United States and you have one last minute to wait before the president of the Soviet Union comes riding up the White House driveway in his black limousine. What is the final thing you do before your guest arrives?

George Bush provided an answer Thursday morning. As he waited for Gorbachev to show up, he quickly looked into his suit coat pocket to make sure the text of his speech was still there.

After attending Gorbachev's luncheon for American intellectuals, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger described the Soviet leader as "serene" and "very relaxed" during the session. But Kissinger could not resist adding that, in the long run, Gorbachev faces serious challenges to his continued leadership.

"Revolutionaries are often consumed by their own revolutions," Kissinger said.

When George Washington University officials put up the Soviet flag in the university gymnasium that is doubling as the press center for the summit, they mounted it with the hammer and sickle in the upper right corner rather than the upper left. After a former Moscow correspondent pointed this out, university officials rushed to change things around, finishing the job just in time for the first joint press briefing by White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater and Soviet presidential press secretary Arkady A. Maslennikov.

Times staff writers David Lauter, Don Shannon, Shawn Pogatchnik, William J. Eaton and Robert L. Jackson contributed to this story.

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