If Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev is invited to the Big Seven economic summit in London in July, his status will be only that of an observer and any pitch for economic aid will be a lot less than "100 billion" he pointedly noted was spent to defeat Iraq. His mission, if it ever takes place, probably would be a
limited one -- to convince President Bush and his fellow %o summiteers that, in fact, he really intends to reform the Soviet economy into a working, market-forces operation.
Precisely what Mr. Gorbachev has in mind is to be explained to U.S. government officials within the next few days by Yevgeny Primakov, a top Kremlin economist, and Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbakov. Their task, presumably, will be to convince the Bush administration that Mr. Gorbachev's back-tracking and vacillation, which have brought the Soviet Union to the verge of collapse, are now over.
Obviously, if Mr. Gorbachev's purpose in London was to secure massive amounts of Western aid the whole idea would be the "non-starter" a White House official said it was last Tuesday. Resources are limited, for one thing, and financial assistance should not be granted until a Soviet reform plan is firmly in place and irreversible. But Mr. Bush, to his credit, has said that "all options" are open, that he remains convinced Mr. Gorbachev is a true reformer and that he does not want to pull the rug out from under the Kremlin leader.
Given the fact that Mr. Gorbachev has gone public with his desire to attend the London summit and has asserted "if I don't go I'll still say what I want to say," the wise diplomatic course would be to issue an invitation in conjunction with a statement setting out very modest objectives for his discussions with the government chiefs of the leading industrial democracies.
Canada, France and Italy already have signaled their readiness to accept Mr. Gorbachev as a guest. Germany, as Moscow's chief financial backer, would take a positive view if the U.S. does likewise. But the final decision really rests with President Bush and British Prime Minister John Major, who will host the summit. Diplomacy has already reached the stage where a non-invitation would be a rebuff. It would be more "negative" (to use Mr Bush's word) than anything that could come out of the summit. Since that is the case, Mr. Gorbachev should be invited strictly to explain his plans for restructuring the Soviet economy. Any big bailouts have to come later.