MOSCOW, JUNE 7 -- President Mikhail Gorbachev joined East European leaders today in calling for the transformation of the Warsaw Pact into a democratic grouping of independent sovereign states, symbolically ending 45 years of Soviet military domination over Eastern Europe.
A statement issued after a one-day meeting of Warsaw Pact leaders in Moscow said that the dissolution of the division of Europe into opposing military blocs "is becoming irreversible." The leaders also expressed a readiness for "constructive cooperation" with North Atlantic Treaty Organization members and neutral states in the creation of a new pan-European security system.
Today's meeting marked the first Warsaw Pact summit since the crumbling of corrupt Communist regimes from East Germany to Romania in a chain of popular revolutions. Of the seven Communist leaders who participated in the last Warsaw Pact summit in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, in July 1989, only Gorbachev is still in power, while Poland's Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski has become chief of state with a Solidarity-led government.
Participants in the meeting quoted Gorbachev as saying that the alliance, which was created in 1955 as a Soviet response to NATO, would have to change radically to survive. Hungarian spokesman Laszlo Balacs said the Soviet leader called for the creation of new agencies to facilitate coordination between the Warsaw Pact and NATO.
The East European leaders agreed in effect to maintain the alliance during a transitional period in which its history and future will be considered by a commission of all seven member states. The commission has been instructed to report back to an extraordinary Warsaw Pact summit to be held in Prague by the end of November.
"The states represented at the meeting will begin to review the character, functions and activities of the Warsaw treaty and will start its transformation into a treaty of sovereign states with equal rights, formed on a democratic basis," the joint declaration said.
Prior to today's meeting, Hungarian Prime Minister Jozsef Antall described the Warsaw Pact as an outdated organization, saying he saw little use for it in the new Europe. East European sources said the Romanian delegation also talked about leaving the alliance but said it was willing to take into account the interests of other countries.
For most of its existence, the Warsaw Pact has functioned as a military and political enforcement agency to guarantee Soviet domination over the nations of Eastern Europe. The military leaders of East European countries were obliged to take orders from Soviet generals through the pact's integrated command structure.
The official Soviet news agency Tass said Gorbachev briefed the other East European leaders on his talks last week with President Bush. According to East European sources, the Soviet leader quoted Bush as telling him that the United States favors the continued existence of the Warsaw Pact.
Participants in today's session quoted Gorbachev as saying the Kremlin could envisage "basically every sort of transformation of the Warsaw treaty, including various forms of membership." His remarks appeared to be directed particularly at Hungary which, according to East European sources, has expressed a wish to pull out of the pact's integrated military command.
At a press conference this evening, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Yuli Kvitsinsky said the future of the integrated military command had been discussed at today's session, but refused to go into detail. He said that further negotiations would be held over the next few weeks and that the result would become clear within a month.
The leaders gathered around the conference table of Moscow's luxury Oktyabraskaya Hotel included former dissidents and political prisoners, such as President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia, once derided as anti-Soviet extremists in the official media here.
On his return to Prague, Havel called the meeting "probably the most important in the history of this body" and said there is no point in quitting the pact now, just as it begins to transform itself into a part of a new European security order.
"This is all a very, very extraordinary feeling," said East Germany's new minister for disarmament and defense, Rainer Eppelmann, a pastor whose anti-nuclear church services in East Berlin helped provide the impetus for last October's peaceful uprising in East Germany.
Eppelman told reporters that he thought the Warsaw Pact would survive at least nominally until a new pan-European security order could be established. He said it was conceivable that Warsaw Pact troops could only be stationed in their own countries.
The Kremlin has already reached agreement with Hungary and Czechoslovakia on the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops from those countries by the end of 1991. Some Polish leaders have called for the Soviet military presence in Poland to be slashed from 40,000 to 15,000 non-combat personnel. The Soviet Union still has about 380,000 troops stationed in East Germany, an important bargaining chip with the West in negotiations over German unification.
At a meeting with East German Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere, Gorbachev reiterated Soviet opposition to a reunified Germany's belonging to NATO. But East Germany's official ADN news agency also quoted the Soviet leader as saying that Germans had a "sacred right" to decide their own destiny.