First ladies show warmer style of new superpower relationship


HELSINKI, Finland -- Her husband has never officially declared an end to the Cold War, but first lady Barbara Bush did it for him yesterday by embracing the Soviet Union as part of the "free world."

Meeting briefly with reporters while she and Raisa Gorbachev were touring the Helsinki University Library, Mrs. Bush was asked if she thought it possible to find a peaceful solution to the Persian Gulf crisis.

"Yes, there is a peaceful solution," she said. "I hope our husbands, along with the rest of the free world, will work hard to make peace. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here."

Certainly, President Bush was here this weekend in part to pay just that sort of compliment to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, whose help he considers crucial tothe crusade to stop Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The term "free world" has taken on new meaning, with both superpowers working to oust Iraq from Kuwait and Iraqi troops enforcing their own form of Iron Curtain to keep hostages behind their lines.

But in what Mr. Bush does acknowledge to be a "post-Cold War era," his new partnership with Mr. Gorbachev is clearly matched by the hand-grasping familiarity of their spouses.

Gone are the days of the brittle tension between the strong-willed Mrs. Gorbachev and the easily put-off Nancy Reagan.

"It helps the husbands' relations if the wives are friends," Mrs. Bush said Saturday during a trip she and Mrs. Gorbachev made to the old Finnish city of Porov, about 40 minutes outside Helsinki. "It softens the road a little bit."

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