Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady said Wednesday that his first talks with the Soviet Union's new economic team have given him a "feeling of optimism" that it would be able to conquer the seemingly overwhelming problems confronting the crippled Soviet economy.
"These are very serious and real people," Brady told reporters after he and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan met with the Inter-Republic Economic Committee, whose job is to fashion an economic union out of the republics that used to make up the Soviet Union.
"They just seem determined to bring to some sort of resolution all of the problems before them," Brady said. "I have a feeling of optimism that they are going to get there."
His sentiments echoed those of Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who was in Moscow last week meeting with the Soviets' new leaders. Baker, who said he had also been impressed with their commitment to democratic and economic reforms, said the United States will look more favorably on large-scale Western assistance to the Soviet Union.
Brady has invited the Soviets to send a high-level team to next month's meeting in Bangkok of the finance ministers and central bankers of the so-called Group of Seven leading industrial nations. That could take them further toward a commitment of aid from the West.
Ivan S. Silayev, head of the Inter-Republic Economic Committee, pleaded publicly for emergency assistance immediately before meeting with Brady and Greenspan. He listed grain, sugar, cooking oil, medical supplies and goods for children as his country's most pressing needs.
"It is winter and it does not wait," he warned.
U.S. officials said they might soon supply additional emergency help. They indicated that the Bush Administration is willing to speed up its schedule for disbursing the $900 million that remains from the $1.5 billion farm credit package it announced earlier this year.
The Administration will also try to improve the terms of those credits. U.S. banks have been reluctant to participate in the package, even though the United States has guaranteed 98% of the principal and the first 4.5% in interest on those loans.
"The President made his mind up that those 'ag' loans are going to go forward," one senior official said. "The credit problem has to be addressed, and I think it will be. If 98% won't do, then some other percentage is better."
Brady and Greenspan are scheduled to meet today with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin. They will fly to Kiev on Friday to get a perspective from the Ukraine, one of the largest Soviet republics after Russia.
One senior Treasury official said the U.S. delegation has seen a marked change in tone since Brady's last talks with the Soviets, which took place at July's economic summit in London.
At that time, in the weeks before a failed coup put reformers in charge, hard-liners opposed to economic reform still held leverage in the government. "They were trying to talk our language without buying the basic product," the official said of Soviet leaders in those days.