Ever since alarm bells went off in the Middle East after Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Soviet Union has been demoted to second fiddle in the news. TV anchors barely give it a passing mention, newspapers bury Soviet stories on inside pages. All of this reminds us that the media - indeed the world - can handle only one extra-strength international headache at a time.When the Soviet Union was last heard from, however, the Cold War was still over, Yeltsin was still boisterous, Gorbachev was still stumbling down the road of glasnost and Bush was still weighing his options on aiding Gorbachev.
Just to prove the world still spins in spite of Saddam Hussein, President Bush announced this week that the Soviet Union would get a little help. The news, of course, was shunted to the inside pages of newspapers.
At issue was a longstanding U.S. limit on the number of Soviet business people allowed to live in the United States while negotiating business deals.
Back in the Cold War era, Washington kept a tight lid on Soviet residents here. For years, only 69 Russians have been permitted to reside and do business in the United States.
Now, the sluice gate is opening. President Bush stated that all restrictions have been removed and that Soviet businessmen are welcomed. He also urged the Soviet Union to reciprocate by lifting quotas on American businessmen making deals in Russia.
The president's gesture is designed to encourage U.S.-Soviet trade and to show Russians entrepreneurs a thing or two about capitalism while they're living here. The Soviets, short on Western capital and eager for joint business ventures, would benefit by removing their own quotas and welcoming Americans, too.
But if Bush's order illustrates how the Cold War is melting, it also shows that a few icicles still cling to U.S.-Soviet relations. The president told the Soviets not to try slipping in spies in the guise of Russian businessmen. If so, the deal will be off, and James Bond will be back in business.