Soviet Official Has Become Familiar Face

When Shevardnadze comes to town, it's more circumstance, less pomp - a letter from Washington

THIS week offered a snapshot of the new workaday whirlwind of world diplomacy in Washington. Reaching its busiest pitch of productivity on Wednesday, this was a week of less pomp, more circumstance. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze was in town, and major business has been conducted at the speed of the official black-car motorcades careening through town, sirens ascream.

With relatively little fanfare, Mr. Shevardnadze left town with one big prize - export credits worth as much as $1 billion for the Soviets to buy grain and food to get them through a tough winter.

When he walked out of the Oval Office into the Rose Garden Wednesday with President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker III, the three of them skipped the all-too-familiar rhetoric harking on a new world order in the post-cold war era. No painting of the big picture, just the business at hand.

Shevardnadze himself no longer seems the symbolic emissary of a traditional global rival. He is familiar now, and US-Soviet diplomacy is taking on the feel of dealings between allies.

``Without people on this side being fully conscious of it, we're emerging into a cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union,'' notes John Steinbruner of the Brookings Institution.

Mr. Baker and Shevardnadze have certainly gone around some firm-but-friendly bends in the road together. Before coming to work in Washington on Wednesday, they worked through five separate sessions on Monday and Tuesday in Baker's hometown of Houston. This week was their 25th meeting in two years.

Other business was hammered out this week. Shevardnadze, Baker, and Bush worked through enough of the remaining problems on START, a strategic arms reduction treaty, that Bush announced a Feb. 11-13 summit in Moscow to sign it.

Shevardnadze met with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who was in Washington for reassurance from Bush on US-Israeli solidarity. The Soviets and Israelis have been at bitter odds for decades. Mr. Shamir proposed normalizing diplomatic relations immediately. Shevardnadze proposed a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Both proposals were taken warmly for slow-track consideration.

Shevardnadze worked still another front while he was in town. In trying to work out an end to the 15-year civil war in Angola, where the Soviets support the ruling party and the US funds the main rebels, Shevardnadze met with rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. The outcome of the Angola meetings looks to be a plan for a cease-fire next month, leading to an end of the arms flow from both superpowers, and multiparty democracy in Angola.

Some old business and suspicions linger between the US and Soviets. Americans are so troubled by Soviet evasion of a treaty signed in Paris last month that some senators are warning they won't ratify it. The Soviets moved tanks out of Europe, east of the Ural Mountains, to avoid destroying them under the treaty.

The food aid Bush is granting the Soviets has its skeptics, too. Aid to foundering centrally planned economies generally serves to prop them up, put off free-market reform.

``I'm afraid this will be used to buy spare parts for Egyptian pyramids,'' jokes former Soviet politician Yuri Maltsev, now a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

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