BONN, West Germany -- Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, greeted by a large crowd of well-wishers in Stuttgart, capped his third day in West Germany Wednesday with an invitation for a West German astronaut to take part in a Soviet space mission.
Gorbachev, whose popularity in West Germany has been rated higher than that of President Bush and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and his wife Raisa were given a tumultuous welcome in Stuttgart by residents chanting 'Gorby, Gorby.'
Mingling with the well-wishers as he has done on several occasions during his four-day visit, Gorbachev plunged into the crowd of thousands, shaking hands, signing autographs and smiling at a banner proclaiming 'Greetings Mikhail.'
The jubilation that has greeted Gorbachev -- dubbed Gorbamania - contrasts with the more subdued reception Bush received on a visit last month.
Gorbachev returned to Bonn later in the day and held talks during a private dinner with Kohl. Details of the talks were not revealed, but the two leaders were widely believed to have discussed bilateral relations as well as key disarmament topics.
A joint statement issued by the two leaders in Bonn Wednesday outlined a major political statement and a number of other agreements signed Tuesday by Gorbachev and Kohl during the first trip to West Germany by a Soviet leader since 1981.
The statement included a brief section on space cooperation that said West Germany and the Soviet Union were ready to prepare an agreement allowing for a West German astronaut to take part in a Soviet space mission.
The news was carried prominantly in early Thursday editions of West German newspapers.
The official Soviet news agency Tass, in a dispatch from Bonn, said both sides called for early implementation of an earlier agreement that includes West German participation in the Soviet space program.
'Both sides expressed themselves for continuing to develop cooperation between the two countries in the peaceful exploration and uses of outer space and for the earliest entry into force of the corresponding agreement between the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the Federal Ministry of Research and Technology of Cooperation of the FRG (West Germany) of Oct. 25, 1988, and the first program of cooperation, including the participation of a researcher cosmonaut in a mission on board a Soviet spaceship and a Soviet orbiting station,' Tass said.
No details of the space program were given. The Soviet Union has taken a French astronaut, along with nationals from socialist and non-aligned countries on a number of missions into space. Japan is expected to send a reporter on a Soviet space mission.
Before returning to Moscow Thursday, Gorbachev has scheduled a news conference and more meetings, including one with steel workers in Dortmund in the heart of an industrial region.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and his West German counterpart Hans-Dietrich Genscher, meanwhile, expressed hope an international convention banning chemical weapons would be established soon. In a joint statement Wednesday, the ministers said their countries were willing to support any verification measure to ensure such a convention were enforced.
On the first day of his visit, Gorbachev praised a NATO proposal to cut U.S. troops in Europe by 10 percent, which was put forward by Bush and adopted by the Western military alliance last month. But he also criticized the fact the disarmament initiative only allowed for negotiations for a 'partial' reduction of short-range nuclear missiles and the fact it said such talks could only start after progress had been made in talks on conventional forces reductions.
During his Stuttgart visit, Gorbachev held talks with Lothar Spaeth, prime minister of the state of Baden Wuertenberg, at a castle built in the mid-18th century and reconstructed in 1958 after it was destroyed by World War II bombs.
Spaeth, a charismatic member of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union, has been mentioned by West German media as a possible successor to Kohl should the party decide to unseat the chancellor, whose popularity has fallen recently.
'It is perhaps more than just an expression of feelings,' Gorbachev told Spaeth in reaction to his popularity. 'What we have seen in the Federal Republic in the past few days ... are important events. They show the major changes that have been realized in relations between our two countries.'
West German government spokesman Hans Klein said, 'We have to separate this into the public relations impact one might expect at a huge rock concert, and the political importance of the visit.'