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President Bush on Tuesday nominated Robert Strauss as ambassador to the Soviet Union and said he was certain the prominent Democrat was the right man to represent the United States in this period of "fantastic change" in Moscow.

Strauss is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and international trade representative under President Jimmy Carter. His relationship with Bush crosses party lines; along with Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Bush and Strauss are Texans and longtime friends.Bush said he was certain that no one was more talented to make sure that two big ships - the United States and the Soviet Union "don't pass in the night for lack of understanding."

Strauss, 72, had been mentioned midway in the president's two-year search for a replacement for career diplomat Jack Matlock. But he said recently he had turned down the job.

Bush sidestepped a question of whether he would be going to Moscow by the end of June for a summit with Mikhail Gorbachev. He said the administration would be deciding on a timetable in "the next couple of days."

Bush made his surprise appointment as the United States and Soviet Union are driving toward agreement on a treaty to slash long-range nuclear weapons and to forge closer economic ties.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has appealed for greater economic aid from the West, and Bush has indicated a willingness to help.

Said Strauss: "I have concluded if there's a role I can, I'm delighted to play it with this secretary of state and this president."

"A week ago if anybody told me I'd be standing here I'd say they'd be crazy," said Strauss.

"I enter this administration as a Democrat as all of you know. It's a non-political appointment if ever there was one." He added: "I certainly will come out a Democrat."

Asked if he believed the United States has a stake in the success of Gorbachev's reform, Strauss said, "Of course I do."