Soviet aid dominates issues at summit Most in London unaware of meeting

July 15, 1991|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau of The Sun Judy Anderson of The Sun's London Bureau contributed to this article.

LONDON -- The sun rises over England today, people will go to work as they do every Monday and the leaders of the seven richest nations in the world will sit down to discuss, among other things, how to help the Soviet Union rescue itself from the ravages of 74 years of communism.

The rehabilitation of the Soviet Union is not on the G-7 summit agenda, but it is on the minds of every summiteer, as well as in the thoughts of the thousands of political and economic experts and journalists they have brought or attracted to the 17th annual economic summit.

President Bush arrived here last night from a meeting with President Francois Mitterrand in Paris and had dinner with British Prime Minister John Major. He is to meet with other leaders this morning, and be at Lancaster House at 2:15 p.m. when the summit officially opens.

Others in the Group of Seven have arrived intermittently. Japan's Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu was seen Saturday afternoon in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Mr. Kaifu is a key player. Not only does Japan have more capital at its disposal than any of the other summit members, it supports the U.S. position against massive aid to the Soviet Union, at least until Moscow returns four bleak islands the Soviets seized from Japan in the closing days of the Second World War.

Lancaster House, the summit site, is a 19th-century mansion of pale yellow stone tucked behind St. James's Palace. It is a venue familiar with concord and success. The decades-long Rhodesian war was brought to an end here in 1979. It was the site of the 1984 economic summit, and it is here Mr. Bush and the other leaders Wednesday will hear Mikhail S. Gorbachev review his plan for his country's restructuring.

Those plans were transmitted to all the summit leaders over the weekend.

They purportedly propose within the next two years the privatization of about 80 percent of the Soviet Union's small and medium-sized enterprises.

Mr. Gorbachev is expected to ask for assistance to soften the impact of the end of price control, and support for the ruble's conversion to a currency someone outside the Soviet Union might want to buy.

President Bush, speaking at a news conference, quickly ruled out substantial aid. "This is not blank check time," he said. "Reforms have to take place before money could well be spent in helping to solve these problems."

The reaction of other summit leaders also was skeptical. Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney suggested that something ought to be done about high Soviet defense spending. A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Koji Watanabe, questioned whether the Soviet economic system had progressed enough to absorb great amounts of money.

As one European Community official put it, "The big problem is finding the means of spending it, making sure it doesn't disappear into a black hole. The Community's position is that the infrastructure isn't there."

The subjects actually on the list for discussion over the next couple of days are the world recession, the economic struggles of Eastern Europe, the dispute between much of Europe and the United States over agriculture subsidies, the environment, debt forgiveness for the poorest African countries and measures to further the fight against drug trafficking.

The G-7 leaders will probably endorse a curb on arms sales to the Middle East and discuss Yugoslavia and various other subjects.

There is also a faint possibility that Mr. Bush and Mr. Gorbachev will be able to announce agreement on reducing long-range nuclear missiles, and a Moscow summit to put their signatures on a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

While most Londoners may not even care that the leaders of the seven major industrial powers are about to meet here, the national and municipal security apparatus is in a state of high alert.

Speculation has been rife about a possible terrorist attack, from the Irish Republican Army, which has been active in London of late, or possibly a revenge attack from some Arab faction connected with the losing side in the Persian Gulf war.

William Gutteridge, executive director of the Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism, said, "Capital cities where the media are, as it were, immediately available, have often been chosen as theaters of terrorism. London and Paris in the Sixties and Seventies were prone to this. There have been Arab terrorist activities in London. . . . Also, of course, in democratic countries there is freedom of movement."

The media are, indeed, "immediately available:" Four thousand journalists are here to cover the summit. And London certainly is a city of movement.

Twice a day the bridges that arch across the Thames are crammed with red double-decked buses, all impossibly packed. More traffic churns the water beneath them: barges, work scows, sightseeing boats loaded with tourists, who clog the arteries in central London.

The traffic creeps and gridlock always impends. This will all be worsened over the next few days.

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