With grayer hair but with the familiar message about freedom and free markets, Ronald Reagan returned to Moscow to a bearhug welcome Monday from Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and said so much has changed since his last visit that he feels like Rip Van Winkle.
It was the former U.S. President's first trip to the Soviet Union since his Moscow summit meeting with Gorbachev in May, 1988, when he strolled on Red Square and said that this country could no longer be considered an "evil empire," as he had labeled it five years earlier.
Reagan, invited back in retirement as Gorbachev's guest, marveled at the improved state of U.S.-Soviet relations and gave himself and his host some of the credit for moving the superpowers away from mistrust to "cautious friendship."
"I think, frankly, (that) President Gorbachev and I discovered a sort of a bond, a friendship between us, that we thought could become such a bond between all the people," Reagan told journalists after urging Soviet lawmakers to hold steady on the course toward greater democracy and private enterprise.
In the afternoon, Reagan and Gorbachev, both beaming and visibly delighted to be in each other's company again, embraced heartily as they met for private talks in the Soviet leader's office at the Kremlin.
"I'm sure you must have sensed by now during your stay here in this country that we and people in Soviet society hold you in tremendous esteem," Gorbachev said, as TV crews and photographers recorded the latest encounter of the men who, while Reagan was America's President, had five summit meetings that were milestones in ending the Cold War.
Accompanied by his wife, Nancy, the 79-year-old Reagan arrived in Moscow on Sunday evening after a visit to Leningrad and emotional greetings in Poland and West Germany.
Gorbachev apologized to Reagan for Moscow's drizzly and overcast weather, saying he supposed it was hotter in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the city where he and his wife, Raisa, last met with the Reagans after the June superpower summit in Washington.
Gorbachev said the men had much to talk about, and journalists were sent out of the room. Later, in a report by the official news agency Tass, Gorbachev was quoted as telling Reagan he believes that significant results can be reached "in the foreseeable future" in U.S.-Soviet talks on cutting their strategic nuclear arsenals by half.
In his speech to the International Affairs Committee of the Supreme Soviet, or national legislature, Reagan said he was stunned by the numerous changes that have taken place in the Soviet Union since he last saw the country.
"There have been so many changes in those two years and four months that I am beginning to understand how Rip Van Winkle must have felt," Reagan joked, referring to the tale about the man who slept for 20 years and awoke to find a far different world.
Reagan told the lawmakers not to lose heart in the face of the Soviet Union's social unrest and likened the dramatically increased striving for independence and sovereignty by the individual Soviet republics to the rancorous disputes that led to the U.S. Civil War.
"It was a wrenching and terrible war, but, when it was over, we found that the fundamental principles and rights upon which our union had been founded were clearer and stronger than ever," Reagan said. "I am confident you will find your way through this period of uncertainty, for with your reforms you have embarked on the right course, the democratic course."
Speaking from a lectern positioned under a portrait of Karl Marx, the former President lauded the benefits of capitalism and explained in the elementary terms of an Economics 101 textbook what the supply-and-demand economy is all about.
"There will be disappointment and discouragement at times," Reagan acknowledged. "There will be trials and errors, but, if you have the courage to persist, you will create an economy within which all can prosper."
The audience--which included Communist Party Secretary Valentin M. Falin, former cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, and ex-Soviet Ambassador to Washington Anatoly F. Dobrynin--applauded politely at the end but, at times during the 50-minute speech and frequent pauses for translation into Russian, fidgeted or gazed at the ceiling.
When presenting Reagan to the more than 30 parliamentarians who sat on both sides of a long wooden table, Alexander Dzasokhov, the committee chairman, gently reminded Reagan that the Soviet Union had not been the only one to change in recent years.
"Your presidency began with a vision of our country as one that was covered with storm clouds, a country that was a source of trouble to the whole world," Dzasokhov, the Communist Party's top ideologue, told Reagan. It was only later, he said, that Reagan arrived at a "different and fair image."