Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Vice President Quayle met yesterday for 45 minutes devoted not to contentious issues preoccupying the superpowers this week but to two areas that have not taken center stage at the summit: space exploration and Latin America.
The session paralleled the one in 1987 that then-Vice President Bush had with Gorbachev during the Soviet leader's last Washington visit, when Bush was beginning his long primary battle for the GOP presidential nomination. The two then discussed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Washington and Moscow were to sign at that session, as well as subjects such as agricultural trade that would be important the following month when primary season opened in Iowa.
Among Republican contenders for the nomination, Bush stood out in his avid support for the INF Treaty, and he took that stance on the road, where it became one of the things that distinguished him from his major opponent, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole of Kansas. The session with Gorbachev gave Bush what his aides called a "stature advantage," which allowed him to do remote television interviews in several states right after the talks, discussing his conversation with the Soviet president.
Quayle, too, headed right for the television cameras afterward. At this summit, the framework for a new treaty reducing strategic weapons is to be signed, but Quayle said the two leaders did not discuss it. Nor, he said, did they discuss a pending U.S.-Soviet trade agreement, Soviet action in the Baltics or other subjects of substantial debate here.
Instead, he said, they discussed space, because of Quayle's role leading the presidential council on space issues; and Latin America, because of his half-dozen visits to that region. Asked what he, as a leading conservative, would tell his fellow conservatives they should think of the Soviets now, Quayle said: "Trust George Bush. They should not have any problem."
The vice president has been more skeptical about Soviet intentions than Bush over the past year, and the Soviets have been critical of that stance. But that did not come up, a Quayle aide said: "That non-issue was not an issue."
The Quayle visit to the Red Room of the Soviet Embassy was sandwiched in after a Gorbachev-Bush session and before two awards ceremonies. Quayle aides later described it as animated and friendly and said Quayle had raised the issue of why the Soviets continue to supply the Cubans when the Cubans are fomenting revolution in the region. "There was no meeting of minds on that," an aide said.
Posing for pictures before the session, the leaders were asked how summit talks had gone. After a "you-first" exchange over who should answer the question, Quayle said the talks were moving "very well." Gorbachev spent the next six or seven minutes expounding his views on his discussions with Bush, as Quayle sat silently next to the Soviet leader, listening to him as much of Washington is doing this week.