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Gorbachev envoy puts Soviet aid needs at $250-billion

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's special envoy told International Monetary Fund officials this week that his nation could need as much as $30-billion to $50-billion in aid in each of the next five years to ensure transformation of the troubled Soviet economy to a free-market system. While the Soviets have not formally requested that amount, according to IMF officials, mention of the staggering sum _ the equivalent of four times what the United States spent to rebuild Europe after World War II _ indicated the scope of the problems facing the Soviet economy and the growing Soviet expectations for Western aid.

It was not clear how the Soviet envoy and members of his delegation arrived at the figure of as much as $250-billion in total Western financing, IMF officials said. "It's a lot of money," one said skeptically.

The three-man Soviet delegation did not mention the sum to President Bush in a 45-minute White House meeting Friday. The meeting left the president more determined than before to try to find a way to help the Soviet Union, officials said, but Bush remained noncommittal on a range of pending questions involving U.S.-Soviet relations.

After members of the delegation outlined their plan, Bush invited the group, led by Gorbachev adviser Yevgeny Primakov, to a lunch in the dining room off the Oval Office.

"We want to be helpful," Bush said. "I liked what I heard, and we have some decisions ahead of us. . . . .

"I had the impression that they are undertaking what, for them is . . . radical economic reforms. And when you've had a totally controlled economy, and you try to move to a market economy, it's not easy. And you need help along the way."

Primakov was upbeat after the meeting. "The move is in the right direction," he said. Asked what the Soviets need, he replied: "Patience first and understanding second."

Bush has been eager to find a way to help Gorbachev as he seeks to make fundamental changes in his nation's economy. At the same time, Bush is worried about raising Soviet expectations for Western aid that could be difficult to meet. For that reason, officials said, he has remained cool to Gorbachev's request to attend July's economic summit of seven leading industrialized nations in London.