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Soviet Union's reform efforts draw positive response from Bush

President Bush said Friday that he was "very impressed" with a Soviet economic reform plan that other administration officials had written off as inadequate. "We want to try to be helpful where we can," Bush said. But he pointedly added that he had made no decisions on Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's requests for massive financial credits and for an unprecedented invitation to attend the economic summit of the seven Western industrial democracies scheduled for London in July.

Talking to reporters after a 45-minute meeting with a high-level Kremlin delegation led by one of Gorbachev's top foreign policy advisers, Yevgeny Primikov, Bush said, "I'm feeling more positive (about Soviet economic efforts), and yet that isn't to suggest that there are not some big problems."

Bush's upbeat tone seemed designed to encourage Gorbachev to keep pursuing efforts to convert the Soviet Union's cumbersome system of central economic planning into a free market. But he did not directly contradict a senior administration official who said Thursday that Secretary of State James Baker had concluded that Soviet economists do not know how to set up a free market and are unwilling to endure the economic pain that such a conversion would inevitably cause.

"When you've had a totally controlled economy and you try to move to a market economy, it's not easy," Bush said. Asked if he believed Moscow was ready to pay the price, the president added, "They certainly say they're prepared to do that."

Although the Soviet Union has indicated that it needs as much as $35-billion a year in aid for five years or more, Primikov said that he did not discuss specific requests with Bush.

Asked by reporters what Moscow wants, Primikov replied: "Patience first and understanding second."

And in the final analysis, patience and understanding are what Bush gave Primikov.

"I was very impressed with Mr. Primikov's presentation," Bush said. "I liked what I heard."

But he added, "We have some decisions ahead of us. . . . I'm not going to suggest that my mind is made up, nor is the administration position yet firmed up on a wide array of matters with the Soviets."