GROMYKO DEAD AT 79; 'MR. NYET' FOR 50 YEARS

T. Elaine Carey Cox News Service
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Tuesday, July 4, 1989

Andrei A. Gromyko, the Soviet Union's master of diplomacy and political survival, has died, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced Monday.


The 79-year-old Soviet who taught Americans the meaning of the Russian word nyet died Sunday. He had undergone an operation late last week for a vascular problem. The official news agency Tass said he died after "a severe, extended illness." Gromyko served longer as foreign minister than anyone else in the world - outlasting five Soviet leaders and dickering with nine American presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan.


He was so cool and shrewd as a negotiator that he was dubbed "Grim Grom" (grom means "thunder" in Russian) and "Old Stoneface."


Gorbachev paid his respects to Gromyko on Monday in words that were proper but uneffusive.


"All his life was connected with history, with our achievements, with our problems, with everything that falls on the shoulders of a man who is in the thick of events for the course of decades," he told the Supreme Soviet.


Later Monday, Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov told reporters that Gorbachev would leave today


for summit meetings in France as scheduled and would miss the funeral on Wednesday at Novodevichy Cemetery, where Nikita Khrushchev and former President Nikolai Podgorny are buried.


President Bush said he is sending a message of condolence to Gromyko's family: his widow, Lydia; his son, Anatoly; and daughter, Emilia. U.S. Ambassador Jack Matlock said Gromyko was "courteous and considerate even when relations were difficult."


Lord Callahan, former British foreign secretary and prime minister, said that Gromyko had been "a good executor of a bad foreign policy that has now changed. "


Gromyko assured himself stardom as a diplomat largely through his handling of relations with the United States. He started his career as head of the Soviet Foreign Ministry's American Department. At the age of 29 in 1939, he became the youngest diplomat at the Soviet Embassy in Washington. He was so incredibly sedate that he was quickly nicknamed "the oldest young man in the capital."


A mere four years later when he took over the embassy, he made Soviet history by becoming the youngest ambassador ever. Later he served as ambassador to Great Britain and the United Nations, where he was tagged "Mr. Nyet" because he vetoed so many resolutions.


However, despite all the time he spent in the United States and his fluency in English, he said in his memoirs published last year that he found the country culturally bleak because values were dominated by money and profit.


While in New York, though, he did go to the movies, saying his favorite was "Gone With the Wind." He also enjoyed playing chess with his wife and reading diplomatic archives from the czarist period.


Westerners who dealt with Gromyko remembered him as a man who drank very little, lifted hand weights every morning and dressed in somber worsted suits, heavily starched white shirts and muted ties.


He became Soviet foreign minister in 1957 under Soviet leader Khrushchev.


His secret to longevity as foreign minister during tumultuous Kremlin intrigues was his self-effacing loyalty to whomever ran the Kremlin, whether it was dictator Josef Stalin or the advocate of greater democracy, Mikhail Gorbachev.


Asked once about power shifts inside the Kremlin, Gromyko joked: "You know how it is here - a bit like the Bermuda Triangle. From time to time, one of us disappears."


He never strayed from the official line and thus avoided being purged from office as were many other Soviet leaders of his era. He was chameleonic in his ability to carry out the varying policies of his Kremlin bosses.


Khrushchev obviously saw this talent. He joked once that Gromyko was his slave.


"If I ask Gromyko to take off his trousers and sit on a block of ice, he will obey and he will stay there until I tell him to move."


And so it was that the laconic Gromyko sat expressionless by Khrushchev's side at the United Nations while the leader took his shoe off and used it to bang the table to demonstrate the ferocity of his viewpoint.


He also betrayed no anger when Winston Churchill threw cigar butts at him at Yalta because he had been whispering in Stalin's ear that the U.S.S.R. should demand Germany's immediate surrender.


He made himself so subservient to the Kremlin that once asked for some personal information, he replied, "My personality does not interest me."


It was not until 1973 that he was allowed into the Communist Party's inner circle and highest body, the Politburo.


For most of his career, however, he merely carried out orders. It was not until 1982 when two successive Soviet leaders, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, were often ailing that he began personally shaping foreign policy.


His admirers said his leadership was steady and consistent, while his critics said it was unimaginative.


History, however, may remember him for his impact on Soviet politics just as much as for his contribution to foreign relations. It was Gromyko who stood up in March 1985 to nominate a Communist Party upstart - Gorbachev - to take over the Kremlin.


"He may have a nice smile," Gromyko told the Communist Party, "but he has teeth of steel."


Ironically, that was the beginning of the end of his spectacular career. Within a few months, Gorbachev kicked him upstairs to the then- ceremonial post of Soviet president. He resigned from the Politburo then.


Just last September, Gromyko retired as president as part of Gorbachev's shake-up of the Kremlin hierarchy in order to bring in younger people. Gorbachev took over as president and redefined the post to give it political power.


In April, Gromyko became something he hadn't been in more than four decades - an ordinary citizen. Gorbachev reshuffled the party's larger governing body, the Central Committee, and dealt Gromyko out of his last official job.