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Gorbachev (left) and Bush (right) prepare to shake hands on board the Soviet cruiseliner Maxim Gorky at the beginning of their 1989 Malta Summit. (AP Photo)

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  • Bush and Gorbachev Hail New Cooperation

    By David Hoffman
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, December 4, 1989; Page A01

    VALLETTA, MALTA, DEC. 3 -- President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, concluding two days of summit talks aboard a Soviet cruise liner, today hailed a new relationship between their countries based on closer political and economic cooperation but continued to disagree about the conflict in Central America.

    In an unprecedented joint news conference, Bush declared, "We stand at the threshold of a brand new era of U.S.-Soviet relations," and Gorbachev responded, "The world leaves one epoch of Cold War, and enters another epoch."

    "This is just the beginning," Gorbachev said, of a "long road to a long-lasting peaceful period."

    After a year of uncertain relations, Bush and Gorbachev announced plans to use the coming months to extend Western trade and investment to the stagnant Soviet economy. Bush said he would encourage Soviet participation in the global economy "every way I can."

    The leaders promised to strive toward completing two major arms control treaties next year. They also said that the reform movements in Eastern Europe will be given the leeway to continue their historic drive toward pluralism and free-market economies.

    Gorbachev assured Bush the Soviet Union "would never start 'hot war' against the United States," and Bush later said he believed him.

    (Bush arrived Sunday evening in Brussels, where he is to meet with other NATO leaders on Monday to brief them on the summit, and Gorbachev flew to Moscow to brief his Warsaw Pact allies.)

    Meeting against the backdrop of upheavals in Europe that have shaken the post-World War II world order, Gorbachev warned against any "artificial attempt" to hasten the process in which hard-line Communist regimes have yielded power in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. Bush said he told Gorbachev the West wants to avoid provoking instability and would not "go demonstrating on top of the Berlin Wall to show how happy we are."

    In eight hours of talks, Bush and Gorbachev said they had decided to accelerate the negotiations on reducing strategic nuclear weapons so that a treaty could be signed at the summit next June in the United States or soon after. "That summit will drive the arms control agenda," Bush said.

    He and Gorbachev also expressed optimism about completing talks on reducing conventional or non-nuclear weapons and troops in Europe by late next year, and Gorbachev responded positively to Bush's new bid to advance a global treaty to ban chemical weapons.

    In addition, Bush told reporters later that Gorbachev raised the prospect of even deeper cuts in conventional forces than those now being negotiated in Vienna. Bush was noncommittal, although U.S. officials reportedly studied such cuts in advance of the summit. Bush said he had given Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney permission to examine "how things can be restructured" in the Pentagon, but Bush said he would not "make draconian cuts in defense."

    Gorbachev also proposed opening negotiations to limit superpower naval forces, but Bush gently rejected the idea.

    While they smiled and joked in the give-and-take with reporters, the two leaders disagreed about the conflict in Central America. Bush renewed his charge that Cuba and Nicaragua are exporting arms to rebels in El Salvador. Gorbachev insisted that the Soviet Union had "ceased" arms shipments to the region and that "we had firm assurances from Nicaragua that no deliveries using certain aircraft actually were carried out." He was referring to planes that crashed recently while carrying missiles to the Salvadoran rebels.

    Bush said "I'm accepting" the Soviet Union's claim that it did not directly supply the weapons, but he fired back that "I don't believe that the Sandinistas have told the truth to our Soviet friends." Motioning to Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, sitting in front of them, Bush said he did not want to challenge the foreign minister's word, but "I am saying that they (the Sandinistas) have misled Mr. Shevardnadze when they gave a specific representation that no arms were going from Nicaragua into El Salvador."

    Both leaders said they support free elections planned for February in Nicaragua.

    Secretary of State James A. Baker III, appearing on CBS News's "Face the Nation," said, "The Soviet Union has told us they are leaning on Nicaragua and Cuba not to send weapons to the FMLN {the Salvadoran rebels} but that has not worked, so we are encouraging them to lean even harder." Baker added, "We have no reason to disbelieve them . . . . We believe them when they say they are leaning on these people, and yet the weapons do continue to find their way in."

    What Bush had originally envisioned as a "get acquainted" informal meeting aboard U.S. and Soviet warships instead became what both sides described as a businesslike working session. The eight hours of talks were held entirely on the Soviet cruise ship Maxim Gorky, docked in Marsaxlokk Bay here, after strong winds and high seas made it hazardous to travel to and from the warships.

    Today's hour-long joint news conference, which had not been planned, was apparently the first at such summits. It was held in the discotheque of the Soviet liner.

    The two leaders and their staffs and thousands of journalists in Malta struggled again today against logistical headaches as winds whipped the islands, but there were also many light moments and jokes about the weather. Bush and his top advisers insisted they did not get seasick during a night on the Belknap, which rolled back and forth so much that dinner dishes at the president's table went sliding about, according to press secretary Marlin Fitzwater.

    The meeting produced a raft of new U.S. initiatives toward Moscow. These initiatives were apparently designed to demonstrate to Gorbachev that Bush is sincere in his desire to help the Soviet leader's troubled economic reform program, particularly in light of skepticism expressed by U.S. policy-makers earlier this year about Gorbachev's prospects for success. Bush said, "Six months ago there was probably a misunderstanding on his part about the intentions of this new president." Now, Bush said, "I don't think he has me down as a total negativist at all, and I certainly don't have him down."

    "There is enormous support in our country for what Chairman Gorbachev is doing inside -- inside the Soviet Union," Bush said. "There is enormous respect and support for the way he has advocated peaceful change in Europe. And so this meeting accomplished everything that I hoped it would."

    Bush offered a series of proposals to lift trade restrictions on Moscow and bring Soviets closer to involvement in Western trade and investment. "The Soviet Union now seeks greater engagement with the international market economy," he said, "a step that certainly I'm prepared to encourage any way I can."

    Gorbachev, who is chairman of the Supreme Soviet legislature, did not make public any major initiatives of his own, as he has in the past. He said that Bush's proposals "could be regarded as a political impetus which we were lacking for our economic cooperation to gain momentum." He added that the Soviet Union was attempting to "drastically" shift its economy "toward cooperation with other countries so that it will be part and parcel of the world economic system."

    Gorbachev, who engaged former president Ronald Reagan after a long period of superpower confrontation, said he welcomed Bush's approach at their first meeting since Bush became president this year. "We have made our contact, a good contact," he said. "In our position, the most dangerous thing is to exaggerate -- and that is always that we should preserve elements of cautiousness, and I use the favorite word by President Bush."

    In what appeared to be a reference to previous confrontations, Gorbachev said "the leaders of our two countries cannot act as a fire brigade, although fire brigades are very useful."

    Gorbachev, who was described by U.S. and Soviet officials as "philosophical" in the talks, said he and Bush had agreed on the prospect for a lengthy period of cooperation following a decade of confrontation. "And thus many things that were characteristic of the Cold War should be abandoned," he said, including the use of "force, the arms race, mistrust, psychological and ideological struggle and all that. All that should be things of the past."

    Reflecting this new approach, Gorbachev said that NATO and the Warsaw Pact "should not remain military alliances but rather military-political alliances and later on, just political alliances." This comment marked a continued evolution in Gorbachev's statements about the future of the alliances; earlier he had called for abolishing them. But his comment today seemed to imply a desire for continued stability, particularly in Germany.

    Soviet officials have expressed opposition to the plan for reunification of Germany unveiled last week by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and Gorbachev today appealed for some breathing room. The "current situation in Europe is that in modern Europe there are two German states," he said. "This is what history has willed." He cautioned against doing "anything to accelerate these changes artificially," which he said "would only exacerbate and make it more difficult to change in many European countries those changes that are now taking place."

    Bush said he told Gorbachev "we for our part do not want to do anything that is unrealistic and causes any country to end up going backwards or end up having its own people in military conflict, one with the other." Bush said, "I don't think it is the role of the United States to dictate the rapidity of change in any country," a comment signaling his sensitivity to Gorbachev's worries about whether the West will seek to exploit the changes sweeping the continent.

    (In Brussels Sunday night, Bush had dinner with Kohl and, according to a senior Kohl aide, their talks touched on Kohl's German reunification plan, as well as arms control, European integration and, because Bush brought it up reporting on his talks with Gorbachev, on regional conflicts such as El Salvador, Nicaragua and Cuba, Washington Post correspondent Edward Cody reported.)

    Gorbachev said he would welcome the reform movements "because it's connected with the desire of these peoples" to make their societies "more democratic, more humanitarian, to open up to the rest of the world."

    Bush, who has called on Moscow to abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine of Soviet use of force to keep its satellites in line, said in response, "There is no question that there is dramatic change . . . . And as President Gorbachev talks about democratic change and peaceful, that certainly lays to rest previous doctrines that may have had a different approach."

    Bush hinted that the two leaders had discussed the issue "in considerable more detail" than they were willing to address in public.

    The actual results of the two leaders' discussions are vague because of the unusual way they were handled. On Saturday, the weather prevented White House spokesman Fitzwater and his Soviet counterpart, Gennadi Gerasimov, from giving reporters a briefing on the talks.

    However, on Saturday night, after telling the Soviets that the briefing was canceled, Bush's advisers speaking on "backround" outlined the substance of Bush's proposals, which surprised and irritated the Soviets. There is no precise public record, however, of what was offered, accepted or rejected. Because Bush wanted to avoid the trappings of a formal summit, there was no joint written statement either.

    However, Bush and Gorbachev said at today's news conference that they would attempt an ambitious acceleration of the negotiations on limiting strategic or long-range nuclear weapons, instructing Baker and Shevardnadze to meet next month on three relatively simple outstanding issues.

    "We may be able" to prepare a treaty by next June's summit, Gorbachev said. The Soviet leader listed one of the more difficult outstanding issues -- sea-launched cruise missiles -- as a topic of concern to the Soviets, but he did not raise the contentious question of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative and its relationship to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

    Bush said it was "entirely possible" to get a strategic arms treaty by next June. "I'm advised by some of the pros that that's complicated, but look, I think we ought to go forward . . . I don't see any resistance to it . . . We're going to have to drive the system."

    Bush told Gorbachev on Saturday that the United States would agree to abandon modernization of binary chemical weapons if the Soviets agreed to join a global ban on such weapons. This represented a modification of Bush's position, which Fitzwater said was made in response to Soviet complaints. Gorbachev called Bush's latest offer "new" and "interesting" and said, "We have the possibility of rapid movement toward it."

    Questioned repeatedly today about the Middle East by journalists from the region, Bush and Gorbachev said they had not talked about it extensively. But Bush said, "We have found that the Soviet Union is playing a constructive role in Lebanon and trying throughout the Middle East to give their support for the tripartite agreement," the agreement worked out under the auspices of Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Nigeria to try to resolve the Lebanon crisis.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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