MOSCOW -- Casting himself as just an old businessman, President Bush departed from two days of high-level political talks to tell aspiring Soviet wheeler-dealers how to set their country right.
Think American, the president said during a new phenomenon here -- the breakfast meeting. Take risks, he said. Remember that can-do attitude.
The wheeler-dealers ate it up.
"This is just what we need," said Alexander Vladislavlev, a Soviet people's deputy and executive vice president of the League of the Scientific and Industrial Association of the U.S.S.R. "What we need is support to renew the spirit of entrepreneurship."
Mr. Vladislavlev, who was sitting next to Mr. Bush, already seemed to possess all the qualities needed to sell the Brooklyn Bridge. "Ah, The Baltimore Sun," he said jovially when interviewed after the breakfast. "My favorite newspaper."
It's that kind of ebullience and confidence, he said, that he and the president discussed. "We agreed that so much of it is emotional," Mr. Vladislavlev said.
Soviet businessmen are tired of being considered criminals because they want to make money. They have had it with being called profiteers and mafioso. They want, at last, a little respect.
Mr. Bush gave it to them.
"Those who succeed here should not be insulted and labeled as speculators and exploiters, because they're not," he said. "They are the people who will fill the shelves in your stores, put your people to work."
He told the businessmen that their nation's leaders were at last grasping American concepts of democratic capitalism, of free markets and free people.
"Some call it the American dream," he said, "but it's more than that. It's a universal dream. And it's a dream that the Soviet people are now striving to make real for themselves."
It was all up to them, he said, the businessmen assembled in a spanking new Moscow hotel after a painstaking search by U.S. Embassy officials, who had to interview scores of potential guests for political correctness. There would be no profiteers or mafioso among the 100.
Since the meeting of the world's seven richest industrial nations two weeks ago in London, much has been made about whether the Soviet Union could or should get substantial aid from the West. But the Soviet businessmen said that was the least of their worries as they try to move the failed socialist centrally planned economy toward a market economy.
"We don't need the money," said Vladimir V. Mitrofanov, director of the Association of Joint Ventures. "If money is given, we'll lose it. Now we need proper systems and laws. Once we have those, money will make money."
The director of the Uzbekistan Businessmen's Union, Murathan Djuraev, agreed that the views expressed by Mr. Bush were worth their weight in dollars.
"I think the influence of this will be very, very big. The attitude toward the private sector will change," he said. "It's not a secret to you it was all negative."
Alexander V. Lugovtsov, manager of the Urals Association of Organizations and Entrepreneurs, said that the budding businessmen must now find ways to make contacts around the world.
If any Baltimoreans are interested in a joint venture to build a new type of van, he said, he would love to hear from them.
And the impact of the summit on the future of this difficult country?
"We will live and see," Mr. Lugovtsov said.