In the end, after all the planning and posturing, hope and hoopla, it came down to a face-to-face confrontation between two men representing the world’s two superpowers. This week’s Geneva summit between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Communist party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev is the 11th such meeting since the Cold War began 40 years ago. It is also the first since Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev initialled the still-unratified SALT lí agreement at Vienna in 1979. Like their predecessors, Reagan and Gorbachev are meeting across a gaping chasm of ideological and real-world hostilities. Still, they share a surpris-
ing preoccupation: both are supremely image-conscious, proud of their talents as “great communicators.” Rarely did those skills face more severe—or significant-tests than at the lakeside chateaux of the American delegation and the fortress-like Soviet mission in Geneva, where the talks are being held.
Gorbachev, 54, is a new-style Soviet leader, energetic and articulate. He is also unquestionably tough. The 74year-old Reagan is a master at presenting a guileless political appearance and issuing strong general policy statements based on his uncanny political instincts. His grasp of the facts, however, is sometimes shaky, and recently he has taken a crash course in
Soviet politics, history and culture to try to avoid costly mistakes. Both leaders are able negotiators. Each seemed certain to score points in discussions of human rights and regional conflicts and each had compelling motives for wrestling with the most contentious issue of all—arms control.
For Gorbachev, an arms accord—or at least an easing of East-West tensions—could help to close his grip on the office that he took over after the death of Konstantin Chernenko last March. In particular, it would allow him to hold down military spending and concentrate on modernizing the stagnant Soviet economy. For his part, Reagan has only three years left in of-
fice—and he is clearly concerned about establishing his place in history.
Still, Reagan has repeatedly asserted that he would not, as Gorbachev insisted again last week, abandon his Strategic Defense Initiative—or Star Wars—in exchange for Soviet cuts in offensive weapons, and few observers expected a major breakthrough at Geneva. But even a mere getting-toknow-you summit seemed a positive step, one that could lead to a subsequent arms pact. In the age of overkill, there are few sounds potentially sweeter—or saner—than that of the superpowers talking.
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