MOSCOW -- The Rev. Billy Graham met with the Soviet Union's leading expert on the United States for more than three hours today to discuss religion, strategic arms and superpower relations.
The lengthy meeting with Central Committee member Georgi Arbatov may have included arrangments for further contacts between Graham and higher-ranking Kremlin officials. The focus of the 63-year-old American visitor's first official visit to the U.S.S.R., however, was on his invitation to preach to Soviet Baptists Sunday.
Nervous Russian church officials said the prospect of huge crowds turning out to hear Graham at the Moscow Baptist Church prompted them to advance the schedule for the American evangelist's first public appearance by 10 hours.
The Voice of America's Russian-language broadcasts had disclosed the original plan for Graham to appear at a 6 p.m. service (10 a.m. EDT).
A ranking Soviet Baptist minister said that publicity persuaded church leaders to move the special Sunday service up to 8 a.m. He advised reporters hoping to get a glimpse of Graham in the tiny church to appear at 6 a.m.
Although Soviet officials appeared anxious, the American evangelist was observing Communist protocol carefully, apparently to avoid embarrassing his Russian hosts.
Members of Graham's entourage said he hoped his appearance at next week's state-sponsored conference of religious leaders against nuclear war would win the American clergyman enough friends in Communist officialdom so he could be invited back for a return visit including more preaching to large audiences.
Graham, avoiding criticism of Soviet policies, had church and government officials wondering if he will use his round of meetings to support Russia's religious dissidents.
At an airport news conference on his arrival Friday, the 63-year-old American evangelist was cautious and diplomatic about his hosts, the purpose of his visit and his six days of meetings.
He said he looked forward to being an observer at thea religious conference that the U.S. government discouraged him from attending and that western diplomatic sources suggest will make him a tool of Soviet foreign policy.
Asked whether there had been high-level pressure from Washington for him to cancel, Graham replied: 'Yes and no. It was not from the president.'
Much of his time will be taken up in private meetings with Russian Orthodox church leaders, Baptists and government officials.
Graham clearly preferred to discuss the conference of 'Religious workers for saving the sacred gift of life from nuclear catastrophe.'
'Political leaders have been discussing ways of trying to save the human race from nuclear catastrophe,' Graham said. 'While I applaud all these efforts, I'm convinced it's time also for religious leaders to meet and make whatever contribution we can to peace in our generation.
'I was born, bred and educated in America and I'm a loyal citizen of America. But I also consider myself a member of the world community with responsibilities not only to one nation but to the whole human race.'
Graham said he was overwhelmed by the greeting he receive from Russian church leaders. He exchanged three kisses each with Metropolitan Filaret of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Rev. Andrei Klimenko, president of the Russoviet Baptists, and five other churchmen.