MOSCOW -- The funeral of President Yuri Andropov gave Western leaders a rare opportunity Tuesday to meet with their Soviet bloc counterparts for discussions on the deep chill in East-West relations.
'The amount of high-level contact here is stunning,' one Western Kremlinologist said. 'The funeral has given the opportunity for high-level discussions of East-West problems,' another analyst said.
The new Soviet leader, Konstantin Chernenko, 72, held brief private meetings with Vice President George Bush, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Italian President Sandro Pertini.
The first details of the sessions came from Bush at a news conference after his 30-minute discussions with Chernenko during which he gave the Soviet leader a personal message from President Reagan.
'The spirit of the meeting was excellent,' Bush said.
Chernenko 'agrees about the need to place our relationship upon a more constructive path, in the interest of peace,' he said.
Mrs. Thatcher, after a 30-minute discussion with Chernenko, said she shared Bush's impression the new Soviet leader was anxious to ease tensions with the West. 'I hope this first meeting will lead to more contacts between our two governments.'
French Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy said Chernenko showed 'a strong desire to improve cooperation between France and the Soviet Union.'
Hundreds of visiting statesman and dignitaries chatted briefly with Chernenko, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, Prime Minister Nikolai Tikhonov and acting President Vasily Kuznetsov who stood in a reception line in the Kremlin's palatial St. George's hall after the funeral.
Gromyko also got a hug and a kiss from Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat. He shared a joke with Mrs. Thatcher and talked at some length with old acquaintances like Bush and Kohl.
The funeral came as East-West tensions were running high following the start of NATO deployment last November in western Europe of American cruise and Pershing-2 missiles and the Soviet suspension of the Geneva-based arms negotiations.
But in his meeting with Kohl, Tass said Chernenko reiterated that the Soviets would not return to the Geneva talks until NATO removes all U.S. cruise and Pershing missiles from Europe.
Kohl had his first-ever meeting with East German counterpart Erich Honecker. He called the two-hour session 'very productive.'
Other Western and Eastern leaders met with each other including Bush's sessions with Thatcher, Kohl and Pertini.
Tass said Chernenko met with heads of Warsaw Pact delegations to the funeral including the leader of Poland, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski and Hungarian leader Janos Kadar.
Among the other visiting leaders were Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, Chancellor Fred Sinowatz of Austria, President Mauno Koivisto of Finland and Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Also attending were President Patrick Hillery of Ireland, Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou of Greece, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau of Canada, Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy of France, Vice Premier Wan Li of China, President Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania and Prime Minister Mario Soares of Portugal.