Raising toasts to a new era

MICHAEL POSNER December 2 1985

Raising toasts to a new era

MICHAEL POSNER December 2 1985

Raising toasts to a new era


It was a clink heard around the world. Glasses raised, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev ended their long-awaited summit in Geneva last week with a warm exchange of chilled champagne toasts—and a pledge to meet again soon. The brief ceremony, featuring an inexpensive bottle of French champagne purchased by the U.S. delegation from a local hotel, was held in a small room above the auditorium of the International Conference Centre. There, minutes earlier, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had signed a new cultural and scientific exchange agreement. The exchange program itself was modest. But it was the first understanding reached by an American president with a Soviet leader since Jimmy Carter initialled the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT lí) with the late Leonid Brezhnev in Vienna in June, 1979. Moreover, its conclusion—and the Reagan-Gorbachev toasts—may herald a new era of intense but friendly competition between the superpowers after years of outright hostility.

During five hours of private talks, accompanied only by interpreters, and another 11 hours of meetings with their closest advisers, the President of the United States and the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union failed to achieve major agreement on any of the issues that dominated their agenda. Those included arms control, regional conflicts and human rights. But the smooth chemistry of their six separate encounters and the apparently genuine personal rapport the two men established transcended that failure. Said Gorbachev in a Thursday morning statement: “Despite the fact that there is as much weaponry as before our meeting, the world is nevertheless a safer place in which to live. I am optimistic when I look to the future.” Added Reagan, completing a marathon 2,017-hour day with a transatlantic flight and an ad-

dress to Congress and the American people: “I can’t claim we had a meeting of minds on fundamentals. But we understand each other better. That’s the key to peace. I gained a better perspective. I felt he did too.”

That determinedly optimistic tone was clearly what allies on both sides of the Iron Curtain wanted to hear. Emerging from a spartan conference room in Brussels where Reagan—en

route to Washington—briefed 13 heads of NATO governments on his talks with Gorbachev, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney noted that the first superpower summit in six years had produced “a basic change in climate and a substantial improvement from where EastWest relations had stood before.” Gorbachev, too, acted swiftly to consult his Eastern Bloc partners, flying from Geneva to Prague for a specially

organized postsummit session of the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet leader dined Thursday night in Prague Castle, the cliff-top residence of Czech President Gustav Husak, overlooking the ancient capital. According to the official Soviet news agency TASS, the six Soviet satellite states agreed that Gorbachev’s sessions with Reagan had created “more favorable opportunities for improving the international situation and for a return to détente.”

Almost from their first cordial handshake, it seemed clear that both Reagan and Gorbachev had agreed not to allow deep differences on major issues to impede their joint objective: a

public relations triumph. On Tuesday, with Reagan as host, the two men met inside the elegant Maison Fleur d’Eau, on the shores of a windswept Lake Geneva. Their first private session had been alloted 15 minutes on the schedule; instead, it lasted more than an hour—an indication that both men had many topics for conversation.

Later, again accompanied only by interpreters, they adjourned to the estate’s poolside chalet where a roaring fire awaited them. There, they vigor-

ously debated Washington’s proposed Strategic Defense Initiative —Star Wars—as well as other aspects of arms control. The conversation, aides said, was “lively” but inconclusive.

They did, however, reach early

agreement on one point: a total news blackout for the duration of the talks (page 38). The moratorium frustrated the 3,117 newsmen assigned to cover the summit but it was otherwise effective, preserving the facade of confidentiality. To compensate, journalists

turned to coverage of the wives, Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev, who

spent two days in each other’s company and parted friends (page 36).

On Wednesday, as the talks shifted to the Soviet Union’s austere United Nations Mission in Geneva, they sparred over the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan and Moscow’s uneven record of compliance with human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accord. According to Donald Reagan, the President’s White House chief of staff, the repartee was “faster than almost a PingPong match.” Slapping his hand repeatedly on the table—a gesture reminiscent of former Soviet leader Nikita S. Khruschev—Gorbachev demanded answers from Reagan. For his part, the President answered calmly, “If you’ll just wait, you’ll get your answers.” But when the two delegations sat down to draft the final communiqué, a 17hour exercise that ran on until 4 a.m. Thursday, they had explicit orders from the top not only to seek common ground—but to find it.

To that end, both sides came prepared to abandon presummit bargaining positions. Reagan’s retinue, which included Shultz and National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, had arrived in Geneva Sunday morning determined to press Gorbachev on Moscow’s role in promoting regional wars and on human rights—specifically, the low level of emigration allowed Soviet Jews. A day later, as the Soviet delegation was welcomed by Swiss President Kurt Furgler, Kremlin officials contin-

ued to insist that unless Washington agreed to restrain, if not surrender, the nascent U.S. program to develop a space-based defensive weapons shield, the talks would fail.

Instead, the joint statement either ignored those differences or framed ambiguous language that each side could interpret as a victory. Reagan agreed to “prevent an arms race in space,” but that was diplomatic lightyears from any specific concession on researching or testing space-based weaponry. Gorbachev pledged to resolve human rights disputes in a “spirit of co-operation” but made no commitment to release political prisoners or grant more exit visas to Soviet Jews. And while U.S. officials later hinted that Moscow seemed ready to negotiate an end to its six-year-old war against Moslem rebels in Afghanistan, the text of the communiqué contained not a single word on the subject or any other regional conflict.

Indeed, the Geneva summit produced few initiatives. The most important: the decision to continue the dialogue. Gorbachev, 54, agreed to visit the United States next year, perhaps in June; Reagan, 74, will travel to Moscow in 1987. At the same time, each country agreed to an expanded exchange program involving artists and athletes, scientists and students, after two years of limited contact. The cultural exchange, Reagan said, would reduce “mistrust and suspicion.” The summit also produced tentative approval for the opening of a new American consulate in Kiev, capital of the Ukraine, and a new Soviet consulate in New York City; the plan was contingent upon the two sides concluding a new civil aviation agreement giving Pan American Airlines and Aeroflot reciprocal landing rights in the Soviet Union and the United States. Transportation officials signed that accord in Washington last Friday.

But despite all the broad smiles and genial bonhomie, Geneva’s fireside summit yielded minimal movement on the overriding East-West issue: arms control. The delegations did not even agree to extend the life of the stillunratified SALT II accord, which expires at year’s end. Attempting to leap the gulf that still divides them, Reagan and Gorbachev instructed their negotiating teams in Geneva “to accelerate” the search for agreement. The most promising sign: Moscow’s apparent willingness to seek a separate accord on nuclear weapons in Europe. The two sides are believed to be much closer to reaching an understanding on these so-called medium-range forces than they are on intercontinetal strategic systems. But until recently, Soviet negotiators have insisted that any

arms control pact would have to embrace both weapons categories.

On the issue of strategic arms the leaders again accented the positive-acceptance, in principle, of a Soviet offer to cut current inventories of nuclear delivery vehicles by 50 per cent. But the two sides have not yet agreed on how to define a strategic weapon. Nor have they decided which systems —land, sea or air-based —would be affected by the 50-per-cut reduction. As a result, arms control analysts remained skeptical about the prospect for an early agreement on offensive arms. As Reagan conceded during his address to Congress: “Quick fixes don’t fix big problems. Our watchword now must be: steady as we


But their most spirited discussions revolved around Reagan’s controversial Star Wars proposal. According to the President, he tried to persuade Gorbachev that strategic defence was just that—a non-nuclear shield that would eliminate the threat of an enemy’s first strike. But the Soviet leader remained unconvinced, as he did of Reagan’s offer, repeated in Geneva, to share Star Wars technology with the Kremlin. In a one-hour-and-45-minute press conference following the summit’s close, Gorbachev insisted that SDI “will not only lead to a further arms race, but all restraint will be blown to the winds.”

In his private talks with Reagan, which he described as “sharp, frank, sometimes very sharp,” Gorbachev reiterated his firm opposition to the U.S. plan. “We can hardly manage as it is to harness the arms race,” he recalled telling the President. “And here you’re trying to engage in further rivalry that will take us into outer space.” The Soviets, Gorbachev said, “could sort of understand” the conceptual appeal of Star Wars to Reagan the man. As for Reagan the politician: “We could not understand that a political leader would adopt that position.” In the event of a mishap, he said, or an attempt to destroy the space shield, “all sorts of computers would be at work.” And at that point, warned Gorbachev, political leaders would lose control.

Gorbachev also told Reagan that if he proceeded with SDI development, Moscow would find a way to keep pace. He added, “I said to the President, ‘Bear in mind that we are not simpletons.’ ” The Soviet leader said that his country would respond to American weapons effectively, quickly and at a lower cost. But in argument Gorbachev was no more persuasive than Reagan—a point he acknowledged toward the end of his 60-minute opening statement to reporters. Said Gorbachev: “We see that the Americans did not

like the logic we presented.”

Significantly, the Soviet leader did not rule out the prospect of an arms accord in which pure research into exotic Star Wars weapons—laser guns and particle beams—would be permitted. In part, U.S. officials claim, Moscow took that position because its own research in the field was already well advanced. At the same time, the officials said, Reagan showed so strong a commitment to SDI that the Soviets may have been persuaded not to allow

opposition to Star Wars to block agreement on other aspects of disarmament.

In fact, the language of the final communiqué implied a Soviet concession on that point. Without even mentioning SDI, it called for early progress in arms control, “in particular in areas where there is common ground.” That phrase, insisted U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, went “a long way toward reducing linkage” between any offensive weapons pact and Soviet demands for abandoning SDI.

In the United States, Reagan’s summit performance earned praise on both sides of the political aisle. His speech to Congress was interrupted 21 times by applause, and Thomas (Tip) O’Neil, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives and an inveterate critic of Reagan policies said he was “more than delighted” with the results from Geneva. Added Republican Senator Nancy Kassenbaum: “The summit has opened the way for serious, detailed negotiations on a series of criti-

cal issues, from arms control to human rights.” Others on Capitol Hill were more cautious. Said Senate majority leader Robert Dole—like Reagan, a Republican: “I’m not sure we know what he’s come back with yet.”

The ratings from officials of previous U.S. administrations were generally favorable. “I think the choreography was superb,” said Alexander Haig, who until 1982 was Reagan’s secretary of state. “But the objective reality is that the difference between East and

West remains profound in almost every area of concern.” The President drew high marks for going one-on-one with the high-octane Soviet leader —and earning at least a draw. Maintained Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former Soviet expert at the U.S. state department: “Reagan got the summit he wanted. He really imposed his own style on it—personal and relaxed.” And Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, flatly declared Reagan the winner. Said Brzezinski: “The President achieved some relaxation of tensions without any major concessions.” Americans generally seemed to agree. A CBS Television survey found that 83 per cent of 800 people polled approved Reagan’s handling of the summit, as well as the decision to meet again.

In Moscow, where Soviet citizens watched Reagan live on television for the first time, the postsummit reviews were equally positive. “Our hopes have been raised,” said one young engineer interviewed near Red Square. Many

Muscovites voiced praise for Gorbachev’s diplomatic skill, noting that the youngest Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin had come to power only eight months ago, after the death of Konstantin Chernenko. And they were particularly impressed by the joint communiqué, in which the two leaders agreed that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The Soviet press, which often claims that the Reagan administration is preparing for war, last week studiously

avoided such charges. In fact, for three days it contained not a single paragraph critical of U.S. policies.

That restraint clearly derived from the cordial atmosphere in Geneva. The tone of civility was set at the first Reagan-Gorbachev meeting—on the stone stairway outside the three-storey Maison Fleur D’Eau. In chill, subzero temperatures a coatless Reagan greeted Gorbachev and posed for pictures. Said the Soviet leader, wearing a grey topcoat and fedora:

“You’re lightly dressed.

Don’t catch cold, or I won’t have anyone to negotiate with.”

As the two men began their private discussions, they relied heavily on their interpreters.

The five-member Soviet team was headed by Ni-

kolai Ouspensky, 40, a chain-smoking Muscovite with a degree in international politics. A former attaché in the Soviet Union’s Ottawa embassy, Ouspensky is now deputy director of the second European department in the ministry of foreign affairs. The U.S. interpreters, also numbering five, were led by Dmitri Zarechnak, 41, a Czechborn naturalized American of Russian heritage. In fact, Zarechnak, a translator for 14 years, still speaks Russian at home in Washington. The role of inter-

preters is always important at summits, but it was especially critical at Geneva because of the time the two leaders spent otherwise alone. In addition to the leaders, whose memory of details might fail, they are the only ones able to reconstruct an accurate historical record of who said what to whom.

According to the President, who met with his cabinet Friday afternoon in Washington, he told Gorbachev early on that deeds, not words, would be required to end the mistrust that exists on both sides. And he described his talks with the Soviet leader as often spirited í but always civil. Still, £ the quest for a joint

communiqué proved elusive. On Wednesday night the two leaders and their wives enjoyed an after-dinner fireside coffee in the library at Maison de Saussure, the 19th-century lakeside residence of the Aga Khan where the Reagans stayed. At the same time, aides wrestled with the language of the draft statement. At one point, it appeared that agreement would not be reached. “There was some eyeball to eyeball Wednesday night,” one senior U.S. official recalled. But “once the two leaders said in that library chat, ‘Do it,’ then word went out to both delegations.” The Soviets, the officials said, deferred quickly to their boss, who made decisions “instantly, without flinching or consultations.

With the communiqué back on track, the President then asked Gorbachev to delay the closing ceremony by an hour —from 9 to 10 a.m.—apparently hoping to gain extra sleep in preparation for his marathon journey Thursday. The Soviet leader was initially reluctant, having previously scheduled a 10 a.m. news conference. But he subsequently agreed.

While the protagonists met at centre stage, Geneva also played host last week to a number of sideshows. Among the most prominent: the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s encounter with Gorbachev Tuesday afternoon. Together with an assembly of peace activists, Jackson presented the Soviet leader with a petition signed by more than one million advocates of a nuclear freeze. But their scheduled 10-minute meeting stretched to 45 as the former candidiate for the Democratic presidential nomination pressed Gorbachev on Moscow’s treatment of Soviet Jews. A more liberal approach to Soviet Jewish emigration, Jackson suggested, “will go a long way to establish the bonds of trust.” Replied an unruffled Gorbachev: “The so-called problem of Jews in the Soviet Union does not exist.”

Still, as the two sides began assessing the results, most observers seemed to reach the same conclusion as Reagan that the “real report card will not come in for months or even years.” Stripped of its diplomatic gloss, the summit seemed at first glance to offer nothing more memorable than a spirit of good will. Yet that was an achievement as well as a suprise. After six tension-filled years Reagan and Gorbachev had at last broken the icefloes jamming the channels of East-West relations. No one could say confidently how long the dialogue would continue, or what directions it would take. But it had, at last, begun.