President Bush will go to Moscow for his fourth summit with Mikhail S. Gorbachev in February and is helping the Soviet leader feed his people with up to $1 billion in credit to purchase food.
The deliveries could be on their way within two months, even as bitter winter deepens the hardships the Soviets are experiencing as Gorbachev tries to lead them from communism to a market economy."I want perestroika (restructuring) to succeed," Bush said Wednesday as he announced what the White House described as the largest initial assistance package the United States has ever offered any country.
Standing at the president's side, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze acknowledged his nation is going through rough times. But, he said, "the Soviet people will cope with the problems."
The package includes technical help in reforming a stagnant transportation system, medicines and support in access to international lending institutions.
The summit, meanwhile, was scheduled for Feb. 11-13 in Moscow even though the nuclear arms reduction treaty that is its projected centerpiece is not finished.
Bush had vowed not to hold the summit unless the accord was ready. But a White House official said that did not preclude setting a date to meet with Gorbachev.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who has worked on the treaty with Shevardnadze in Houston and in Washington this week, said a number of technical issues remain unresolved.
These include monitoring of solid rocket and missile assembly facilities to guard against breaches in the accord, which will cut stockpiles of long-range nuclear bombers, submarines and missiles by about 30 percent.
But Bush said, "I'm pleased with the great progress we've made on START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) and hopeful that we'll be ready to sign a treaty" in Moscow.
In the meantime, the president suspended at least until next June 16-year-old trade restrictions that Congress had imposed on the Soviet Union to try to force emigration of Jews and other minorities.
Baker said the U.S. assistance program would include credits for $500 million to $1 billion in food shipments. That is more than Shevardnadze requested Tuesday in their talks in Houston, said a U.S. official who briefed reporters under rules shielding his identity.
"The Soviet Union is facing tough times, difficult times. But I believe that this is good reason to act now in order to help the Soviet Union stay the course of democratization and to undertake market reforms," Bush said.
The target for about 40 years of U.S. invective and a massive military buildup, the Soviets lately have been on friendly terms with the United States, including supporting Bush's drive to force Iraq to reverse its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.