12/24/1984 at 01:00 AM EST
When Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko entered the White House last September, he paused to sign the guest book. "Aha," he joked, "my first concession." Gromyko doesn't enjoy making concessions; he much prefers demanding them. In fact "Old Stone Face," as former Secretary of State Dean Acheson dubbed him, likes to win a concession or two even before the bargaining begins. "Whenever possible, Gromyko would...demand a concession as a price for sitting down at the bargaining table," Henry Kissinger wrote in his memoirs. "He knew every shade of a subject. It was suicidal to negotiate with him without mastering the record."
Secretary of State George Shultz is probably studying the record right now, cramming for his January 7 arms control agenda talks with Gromyko. In Geneva Shultz will be bargaining with perhaps the most experienced, wily and deft diplomat in the world. In his 45-year career, Gromyko, 75, has dealt with nine American Presidents and 14 Secretaries of State. In those years he has seen much and forgotten little. "I admire him as a professional, seasoned diplomat," says Malcolm Toon, former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. "He has total recall and is a fierce defender of Soviet interests. He attended all the wartime conferences and every important conference since World War II. He would say to me and to Secretary Vance, 'I know, I was there.' "
Gromyko's diversions do not stray too far. For light reading he peruses Czarist foreign ministry archives and for exercise he hunts outside Moscow. Says Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former State Department counselor who has trudged the woods with Gromyko: "He is a very methodical hunter, stalking his prey and enjoying himself." Substitute "negotiator" for "hunter" and the statement is still true.