CAMP DAVID, MD., JUNE 2 -- When Marine One touched down on the freshly mopped landing pad here this morning, you could tell that President Bush had informality in mind. He and his top aides wore dark blazers and ties instead of dark suits. The Soviets wore suits.
This was to be the getting-to-know-you-better day of the superpower summit, a favorite weapon in the diplomatic arsenal of Bush, who has demonstrated repeatedly the past 17 months that he places great store on forming personal relationships with world leaders. The last time Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev met, they were to get to know each other while relaxing aboard ships in the waters off Malta. But stormy weather foiled that plan.
For this summit, the White House invited Gorbachev for an overnight stay at Kennebunkport, the president's shoreside Maine retreat. But the Soviets said Maine was not acceptable to Gorbachev.
White House Plan Two was an overnight stay here among the groves of tall trees and unbroken stretches of green, the closest thing to a tranquil setting a president gets. The Soviets finally gave in and agreed to 10 hours or so at this presidential retreat but asked to be taken back to the Soviet Embassy in Washington by nightfall.
Low-level White House aides were joking last week that an adjective search was on for new ways to describe friendly, informal talks, which they were certain would be the thrust of the mood statement issued here. The two had . . . constructive talks? Animated? Encouraging? In-depth? Substantive?
But with only the two presidents and four top foreign policy aides present at the discussions on the back deck of the scenic Aspen Lodge, who would know, really, what had gone on?
As it turned out, there wasn't much to be seen of the two leaders. The only neutral sightings occurred when they came and went from a grassy landing zone about a half-block inside the gates of Camp David, a 143-acre compound marked with a small, wooden, Camp No. 3 sign and warnings to people not to trespass. As Marine One landed this morning, the leaders were announced and piped "aboard" Camp David, a naval support facility. A ship's bell, from the USS Endicott, was rung in the traditional manner. The ship had been part of a convoy that took President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Yalta during World War II in a far different time of U.S.-Soviet relations.
The leaders' arrival comments reflected their views about why they were here in the Catoctin Mountains. Asked about the day's agenda, Bush ignored the question, presumably applying the "no questions at photo ops" standard he applies in the Oval Office.
Gorbachev, of course, answered fully, speaking of discussions of the "planet and its flash points" and "regional issues." The two would "of course pursue general discussions in order to understand each other better," he said. Bush said a few words about the "lovely trails here we can walk on if we decide to do it," perhaps a hint that after two days of trying to get the Soviet leader to take a stroll with him, the time was now. White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said later that, alas, no walk occurred, but the two did get to take a 10-minute golf-cart tour of the compound. The Gorbachevs on their own got to pitch a few horseshoes -- one of Bush's favorite sports. The Bushes later pitched their own.
When they returned tonight to the White House, Bush said, "President Gorbachev picked up a horseshoe, never having played the game, to my knowledge, and literally -- literally, all you horseshoe players out there -- threw a ringer the first time."
As for the informality, Fitzwater said members of the entourage took off their ties and put on Camp David jackets and "had a relaxed give-and-take." Their talks, said Fitzwater, were "casual and lively," and interspersed with laughter. It was, he said, a "kind of lean back and reflect" sort of day, not one to make agreements and issue statements.
Fitzwater said Camp David offers "a very comfortable at-home kind of setting where they can relax . . . an opportunity to avoid the distractions of the White House . . . staff, guards, press, congressmen and all those kinds of things."
The two leaders, Fitzwater said in describing an oddly anticlimactic final day of talks, did not wrestle with the future of Germany or the problems of the Baltics, as the White House had once envisioned this day would go. Instead, he said, they wandered across the globe, discussing, through simultaneous translation, regional conflicts and "enjoying the warm sunshine" as they sat on Aspen's deck.
At the end of the day, about 30 Soviet and American officials flew up in helicopters from Washington for an early dinner at 6 p.m. The White House put out an official guest list, as it does for state dinners and listed the menu: salmon with bernaise, potatoes Anna and green beans, salad with brie and orange mousse cake with fresh raspberries for dessert.
Fitzwater said the day helped solidify the "warm and personal relationship" the two leaders have but acknowledged, "They still refer to each other as 'President.' "