IT seemed perfectly natural to hear that Mikhail Gorbachev and his entourage stopped off in England on their way to Washington, and not just because the ``green and pleasant land'' made a good place to stretch their legs on a refueling stop. Mr. Gorbachev and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher have gotten a lot of public-relations mileage out of each other over the past few years. They first met in December 1984 on a visit he made to Britain while still heir apparent in the Kremlin. The ``Iron Lady'' proclaimed that she could ``do business'' with Gorbachev, and that prepared the way for his reception in the West as an ``exciting new figure'' in the Kremlin, worlds apart from the gerontocrats.
This past March, she went to the Soviet Union, where she not only got to make points on human rights but had ample opportunity to project foreign policy leadership to the audience back home, which less than three months later returned her to office for a third term.
The senior head of government among the Group of Seven, she has also served helpfully as a go-between for Gorbachev and President Reagan. Her imprimatur on the INF accord, and her urging of the Big Two toward 50 percent cuts in strategic nuclear arms, could help on both counts, particularly in ``bringing aboard'' the NATO allies.
She does not share the dream of a nonnuclear world, however. At her meeting Monday with Gorbachev at Brize Norton Air Base, outside Oxford, she was in too jolly a mood to make much of a point of it, but she does believe the presence of some nuclear weapons helps deter war. This reminds us that allies are not necessarily twins. As the superpower dialogue continues in the months ahead, hers will be a voice of continuity in international relations, and she will be a good spokeswoman for Europe.
Which brings us round to the reports a couple of weeks back that Queen Elizabeth has opened the highly esteemed Order of the Garter to women of nonroyal birth. Men outside royal families have long been granted the honor - most recently Lord Callaghan, the Labour prime minister Mrs. Thatcher unseated in 1979.
Buckingham Palace has dismissed as speculation suggestions that Thatcher could be the first nonroyal Lady of the Garter. But Garter or not, her place in history is assured.