WORLD/COVER

A SUMMIT WITH STYLE

MARCI McDONALD December 21 1987
WORLD/COVER

A SUMMIT WITH STYLE

MARCI McDONALD December 21 1987

A SUMMIT WITH STYLE

WORLD/COVER

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was running an hour late for his final meeting with President Ronald Reagan last Thursday morning near the end of the historic summit. After Gorbachev had breakfast with Vice-President George Bush, Gorbachev’s motorcade sped down Washington’s crowded Connecticut Avenue. Then, halfway to the White House, his boxnosed black Zil limousine—one of eight flown in from Moscow for the occasion-screeched to a halt. Gorbachev’s stunned police escorts slammed on their brakes. KGB security men at the head of the motorcade switched frantically into reverse. About two dozen secret service men leapt out of their security vans and shouted at onlookers, “Get your hands out of your pockets.” The crowd on the sidewalk seemed taken aback at the unlikely spectacle of the general secretary of the Soviet Communist party striding toward the curb, palm outstretched, mainstreeting with all the ebullience of an American politician on the campaign trail.

‘Glad’: As he had in meetings with America’s congressional, business and artistic elite last week, Gorbachev was reaching beyond the White House, where Reagan was waiting, and taking his case directly to the American people. With his interpreter scrambling after him, Gorbachev plunged into the crowd, shaking hands and beaming. “Hello, I’m glad to be in America,” he said in Russian. “I’m

glad to be friends with all of you.” Gorbachev’s impromptu two-minute stop illustrated the scene-stealing style that characterized the Soviet leader’s visit.

Whether joking with Reagan as he signed the first treaty in history to cut back the number of nuclear weapons, or whether, breaking into a misty-eyed sing-along with his wife, Raisa, and pianist Van Cliburn at a White House state dinner, the Soviet leader dazzled even Washington’s most jaded observers. “He’s taken over this town,” said former Democratic national committee chairman Robert Strauss. “He’s working this country like it hasn’t been

worked before. It’s a hell of a PR show.” Raisa Gorbachev displayed a similar talent for attracting the U.S. media, even staging her own impromptu news conference on a Georgetown street (page 28). Indeed, although the Gorbachevs stayed within a 10-block radius of central Washington, they managed to transform the face that the Soviet Union shows to the world. On television screens around the globe, they became the walking embodiment of the Soviet leader’s policy of glasnost, or openness, international-style.

Ease: But the visit was far more than an exercise in image-making. Although Gorbachev and Reagan made little progress on the toughest issues that divide them—including the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, human rights violations and the U.S. space-

based antimissile system popularly known as Star Wars—they both declared the summit a success on a more fundamental level. With their obvious ease in each other’s company and with their extraordinary candor about their disputes, they seemed to usher in a new era in the superpower relationship. Said Gorbachev in his final two-hour news conference: “I think we now have more understanding between the President and myself. I’ll even venture to say I think we trust each other more.” Candor: Gorbachev conceded that “differences still exist—and at some points, those differences are very serious indeed.” But he declared that he no

longer regarded them as insurmountable, and he hailed the summit as “a major event in world politics.” And in his own televised speech, moments after Gorbachev flew off to East Berlin to report to Warsaw Pact leaders, Reagan was equally enthusiastic. “Soviet-American relations are no longer focused on arms control issues,” he said. “They now cover a far broader agenda, one that has, at its root, realism and candor.” Commented leading Sovietologist Jerry Hough, director of the Centre on East-West Trade at North Carolina’s Duke University: “We are essentially leaving the postwar era. We used to think the Soviet Union was the focus of all evil. But now we have come to realize it is only one of three or four problems we face.” Some U.S. media analysts declared

the summit a disappointment because it failed to produce a breakthrough on the pivotal question of reducing longrange strategic missiles (page 27). They said that Reagan may have miscalculated by arranging to sign the INF treaty on the first day of the summit instead of first getting real progress on strategic weapons. But most U.S. Sovietologists, like Gorbachev himself, predicted that Reagan could still sign a Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) treaty when he visits Moscow for a return summit, probably next June.

Gorbachev’s refusal to make concessions on human rights or the withdrawal of the estimated 115,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan appeared to be aimed at showing his countrymen that he could stand up to the Americans. In fact, in a meeting with 20 top U.S. media executives, he confided that the Soviet people would never stand for a leader who accepted foreign criticism on human rights issues. The Soviet leader even demonstrated his temper. Hands beating the air, Gorbachev defiantly demanded: “What moral right does the United States have to preach to us? You are not the prosecutor. We are not the accused.”

Praise: In fact, it was a measure of Gorbachev’s personal magnetism that the politicians and business leaders he met came away beguiled by his candor and combativeness. Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, the Republican minority whip, emerged from a meeting at the Soviet Embassy full of praise. “He was very cordial, very disarming, very candid, very direct,” said Simpson. “I’d rather sit in a room with a guy that comes at you with six headlights like a Mack truck, instead of somebody picking and dancing around the issues.” Agreed multimillionaire publisher Malcolm Forbes: “The fact that he mixes a little venom with the candor—to me, it lends credence to the fact that he’s not trying to snow-job us.”

In most of his appearances, Gorbachev offered a marked contrast in style to Reagan. The President routinely carries a discreet pack of index cards to cue himself for even the most informal discussions. But the congressional leaders noted with approval that Gor-

bachev engaged them in a lively, freewheeling debate on a range of complex issues without benefit of notes. Said Senate majority leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia: “He could hold his own in any debating society.” Added Robert Michel of Illinois, the Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives:

“He’s nobody’s dummy, let’s face it.” And Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association, jokingly told Gorbachev that he was “now running third in the Iowa primary.” When Gorbachev replied that he already had a job,

Valenti said, “In this country, we draft people.”

Although the 76-year-old Reagan spends several days resting before he begins any foreign visit, Gorbachev, 56, bounded off his plane—after a two-hour stopover in Britain where he had talks with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—declaring that he had no jet lag. “I’ll rest later,” he said. Those differing levels of vitality underlined the very different stages of the two leaders’ political careers. While Reagan clearly looked to the summit as the capstone of his final year in office, for Gorbachev the meeting was one more step in a reign over the Kremlin that could continue into the next century.

Encounters: In fact, Gorbachev’s direct appeals to American public opinion were evidence that he realized that he could not pin his fortunes on a personal relationship with Reagan. When he was not conferring at the White House, Gorbachev was hosting a series of informal encounters with influential leaders from every field at the ornate, Beaux Arts-style Soviet Embassy four blocks away. At his Dec. 9 breakfast meeting with nine key congressional leaders—including Republican presidential hopeful Senator Robert Dole— he was careful to flatter them about the importance of Congress. Said Gorbachev: “Nothing can happen in this country without its participation.” But he also offered understanding of their difficulties. “We have conservatives too,” he said, referring to those on the American right wing who remain adamantly opposed to the INF treaty. Later Dole hastened to pacify conservatives who accused him of a turnabout on the treaty. Said Dole of the Soviet leader: “I still don’t trust him.”

On three successive afternoons Gorbachev mixed with other members of the U.S. elite: 20 media executives, 45 business leaders and those he called its “intellectuals and academics,” includ-

ing actor Paul Newman and artist Yoko Ono, widow of John Lennon. Beneath the crystal chandeliers of the embassy’s baroque Gold Room, Gorbachev engaged former national security adviser Henry Kissinger in a private debate over his criticism of the treaty. And he even tried to persuade New York developer Donald Trump to in-

vest in Moscow, by praising his Trump Tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. “Maybe capitalism is right around the corner,” said Trump.

Climax: Indeed, Gorbachev’s handshaking session on a Washington street corner—near the offices of several major news organizations—was only the climax of a campaign whose purpose he made no effort to hide. With everyone he met, he openly asked for support in ratifying the INF treaty and improving Soviet-American relations. As Gorbachev admitted in his final news conference: “I have not only been indulging in politics. I have also been making propaganda.”

His most effective weapon was his mastery of Reagan’s own game—public relations. In contrast to a generation of Soviet leaders in ill-tailored suits who spouted Marxist-Leninist dogma, Gorbachev displayed his knowledge of American slang and canny understanding of the U.S. political system. In a state department luncheon receiving line which lasted more than an hour, he made a point of pausing for lengthy, jocular chats with those who could play pivotal future roles: the Democrats’ arms control expert Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia and Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee.

Emotion: But the Soviet leader’s most appealing public relations triumph may have come in an unscripted moment at the end of Tuesday night’s gala White House dinner. His wife led the congratulations for pianist Cliburn—the first American to win the Soviet Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow 29 years ago—after his performance in the White House East Room. As an encore, Cliburn launched into Moscow Nights, a sentimental Soviet favorite, and the Gorbachevs as-

tonished the assembled guests by singing along in Russian, their eyes misting with emotion.

Amiable: By the next day media analysts were reporting that Gorbachev had upstaged Reagan, and White House officials made thinly veiled efforts to undercut Gorbachev’s rave re-

views. One told a Washington Post reporter that the Soviet leader displayed an amiable face in public but a more unyielding side in private. Said the official: “He may get out of town before it all catches up with him. He’s like a travelling salesman.”

In fact, that glimpse of old recrimi-

nations served as a telling reminder of just how fragile the new era of SovietAmerican relations may be. And more vituperative rhetoric will probably surface. As well, arch-conservatives, led by the ranking Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, are poised to launch an assault on the INF treaty in coming months.

Future: In his departure statement at the White House, Gorbachev noted that “there is still much work to be done” on the road to disarmament. But perhaps the summit’s most promising omen was the fact that Reagan—the most vehemently anti-Soviet president in recent history—had been Gorbachev’s partner in producing the only arms control measure ever to actually reduce the size of the superpowers’ nuclear arsenals. And even as the euphoria began to fade, the summit had already made its way into history as a moment when the world caught a glimpse of new possibilities. It hinted at an era when the threat of nuclear annihilation would no longer cloud a generation’s future.

— MARCI McDONALD in Washington