MOSCOW -- Vice President George Bush arrived Tuesday for the funeral of Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko carrying a letter from President Reagan reportedly suggesting a summit with new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
'I have brought a message with me to Moscow from President Reagan. It is a message of peace,' Bush told reporters as he stepped from Air Force Two on his arrival from Geneva, Switzerland, where he attended an African aid conference.
Administration officials in Washington who declined to be identified said the message suggested a future summit meeting with Gorbachev, 54, sworn in Monday to succeed Chernenko as the new Soviet leader.
But White House spokesman Larry Speakes said although Reagan was 'anxious' to meet with Gorbachev, the meeting would have to one that could make a 'constructive contribution' to improving U.S.-Soviet relations.
A U.S. spokesman in Moscow said Bush hoped to meet privately with Gorbachev after Wednesday's Red Square funeral for Chernenko, who died Sunday night at age 73.
In his airport statement, Bush was hopeful of 'bridging those differences' between the two superpowers. 'We have no greater goal than to create a more stable and constructive relationship with the Soviet Union,' he said.
'It will take patience,' he said. 'It will take persistence, because we recognize that the United states and the Soviet Union do differ on many important questions.
'Nevertheless we are ready to bridge those differences and we hope the new Soviet leader is equally committed to finding solutions to the problems that confront us,' Bush said.
Secretary of Shultz arrived about an hour before Bush. Other members of the American representation at the funeral included U.S. Ambassador Arthur Hartman, assistant secretary of state Richard Burt and State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb.
Bush drove immediately from the airport to pay his last respects to Chernenko, whose body lay in state in the magnificent hall of columns in central Moscow. Chernenko died Sunday, aged 73, from complications of the lung disease emphysema.
The U.S. vice president stood in silence for several minutes at the foot of the funeral bier as a full orchestra played classical music.
It was the third time Bush headed an American delegation to the funeral of a Soviet leader in 28 months. He led the representations to the funerals of Leonid Brezhnev in November 1982, and Yuri Andropov in February last year.
Reagan also sent messages of condolence and hope to Foreign Minister Gromyko and to Vasily Kuznetsov, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, or parliament.