BOB LEVIN June 11 1990


BOB LEVIN June 11 1990




On the sun-splashed streets of Washington last week, it was easier to find a T-shirt bearing the likeness of Mickey Mouse or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than one featuring Mikhail Gorbachev. Even as President George Bush welcomed the Soviet leader to the White House, only a handful of would-be spectators milled outside the black iron gates, in contrast to the frenzied adoration that struck the U.S. capital on Gorbachev’s initial visit in December, 1987. “It’s kind of like the first man in space,” said Francis Key, 71, a tourist from Altaloma, Calif. “Now, when they go up, it hardly makes the front pages anymore.” As the summit went on, however, Gorbachev did manage to work some of the old magic, as he had in Ottawa earlier in the week (page 44). The crowds grew larger and more enthusiastic. But that did not disguise the visiting president’s domestic difficulties, from a collapsing economy to rebellious Lithuania. And the Soviet leader, who sat down with Bush last week for three days, entered the sessions as an embattled, fatigued and apparently weakened political figure.

In his sixth summit encounter with an American president, Gorbachev found an accommodating host in Bush. The two leaders signed a stack of documents, including a long-awaited agreement in principle for a strategic arms limitation treaty (START) and a chemical-weapons accord. But, although those agreements had been expected, the signing of a commercial trade pact, which U.S. officials had previously made conditional on the Soviets’ easing both

emigration rules and the crackdown on Lithuania, was a significant surprise—and a vital, if largely symbolic, victory for Gorbachev.

Bush administration sources said privately that the President, who has completely abandoned the studied skepticism towards Gorbachev that marked his first year in office, was determined to help him achieve a foreignpolicy success to take back to the Soviet Union. “We are leaving the Cold War behind,” Secretary of State James Baker told a packed news conference on Friday night, “by expanding and strengthening the ties between our two countries.”

At the same time, beneath the public display of power and influence, lay new realities that could threaten the two countries’ superpower status. “The superpowers are not irrelevant,” said Ed Hewett, a senior fellow at Washington’s nonpartisan Brookings Institution. “But they have less influence in Europe than they did a year ago. And while the shadow of the United States will be hard to remove, the Soviet Union faces a great threat of marginalization.” Gorbachev, in a kind of running dialogue with officials and reporters throughout the week, rejected the talk of weakness as “just not serious,” using one of the most sarcastic and dismissive phrases in the Russian language.

But even before he and Bush got down to business, the Soviet leader’s domestic difficulties continued to grow. Maverick politician Boris Yeltsin, elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian republic last week, challenged Gorbachev with an immediate call for republican sovereignty (page 42). Panic buying, set off by the Kremlin’s announcement two weeks ago of a new, price-raising step towards a market economy, persisted despite an emergency rationing plan (page 56). The stalemate over Lithuania’s March 11 declaration of independence from Moscow showed no signs of breaking, while in the republic of Armenia, 24 people died in clashes between ethnic militants and Soviet troops. There was even an earthquake, which left at least 12 dead in the Soviet republic of Moldavia and in neighboring Romania.

Members of the Soviet advance team did their best to put a bright face on Gorbachev’s troubles. To the 5,000 journalists covering the summit, they handed out a glossy magazine picturing a smiling Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev on the cover and praising the president’s “intellect,” “powerful memory” and “charisma.”

Georgi Arbatov, a member of the Communist party's policymaking Cen tral Committee, told Maclean's that Gorbachev is actually "stronger" than during his Washington summit with Ronald Reagan 2½ years ago. "He is president now," said Arbatov. "Yes, he has troubles, but each president of the United States has his first hundred

days, his honeymoon—then problems begin to emerge. If Gorbachev undertakes a drastic change of society, then problems of a major kind are inevitable.” However, some members of the Soviet entourage were openly critical of the government. “Yes,” explained economist Vladlen Martynov, “that’s glasnost [openness].”

Gorbachev himself gave a strong, spirited performance, particularly on the critical German question. Before leaving Ottawa, he warned the United States not to “dictate” that a reunited Germany would be a member of NATO. And in Washington, he repeatedly referred to the Second World War, in which as many as 27 million Soviets were killed, as a reminder of his countrymen’s sensitivity over the prospect of German militarism (page 45). In negotiations with Bush, U.S. officials said, Gorbachev proposed replacing NATO and the Warsaw Pact with a restructured and more powerful version of the 35-nation Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The Americans have rejected that proposal in the past, and there was no indication last week that any real progress had been made. Many Western analysts said that Gorbachev was simply looking for a face-saving for-

mula. “Whether he admits it or not,” said former chief U.S. arms-control negotiator Paul Wamke, “Germany is going to be part of NATO. So it is really just a question of recognizing the inevitable and getting whatever type of deal he can.”

The pact in principle on START had also taken on a kind of inevitability. After nearly a decade of negotiations, the two sides had tried but failed to reach agreement in time for Bush and Gorbachev to sign a treaty at the storm-tossed Malta summit last December. But three weeks ago in Moscow, Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze announced that they were close to a deal that would cut longrange nuclear missiles by as much as 35 per cent. The reductions were not as significant as initially intended.

The original target was 50 per cent, and both sides have continued to build new weapons since talks began. As a result, Bush and Gorbachev pledged last week to pursue deeper reductions after details of the first treaty are worked out later this year.

The agreement on chemical weapons would completely stop production of poisonous nerve and mustard gas and cut existing stocks to about 5,000 tons by the year 2002, a reduction

of about 25,000 tons for the Americans and 45,000 tons for the Soviets. Along with pacts on everything from cultural exchanges to ocean exploration, the two sides signed a fiveyear, multimillion-dollar grain deal and the key commercial trade accord, designed to increase

the current $6 billion in twoway trade.

The American side said that Bush would not send the trade treaty to Congress for ratification until the Supreme Soviet passes more liberal emigration legislation. But Bush simply dropped his implicit reference to the Lithuania issue. Explained White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater late on Saturday: “We are helping the Soviet Union integrate itself into the international community.” The trade agreement could clear the way for the real prize: most-favored-nation trading status, allowing Soviet goods to enter the U.S. market at the lowest tariff rates granted to any country, but which also requires congressional approval, g Those concessions, ana2 lysts said, were signs of I Bush’s eagerness to improve o both the Soviet economy and § Gorbachev’s sagging populi larity at home. Said Hewett of s the Brookings Institution: “It is not in our long-term interests to simply say, ‘You are weak, you are irrelevant.’ Ultimately, one of Gorbachev’s strongest bargaining points is his weakness. Privately, he can say to Bush, ‘If it’s not me, who will you get? So don’t push me so hard.’ ” Some analysts even suggest that Gorbachev intentionally exaggerated his domestic

troubles. “Either Gorbachev has totally lost touch with his senses,” said Jerry Hough, a sovietologist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., “or he was happy to come in with this weak image and say, ‘I can’t afford to make concessions.’ ”

Beyond the substantive talks, the stylistic signals between the two sides were overwhelmingly positive. At the opening ceremonies on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday, backed by the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument,

Bush praised his guest for the revolutionary changes that he touched off in Eastern Europe and within his own country. “I salute you,” he told a clearly pleased Gorbachev, and added, “We want to see perestroika succeed.”

Gorbachev, in turn, spoke eloquently of improved relations. “The trenches of the Cold War are disappearing,” he said. “The fog of prejudice, mistrust and animosity is vanishing.” That night, before a White House dinner attended by such luminaries as businessman Armand Hammer and actors Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, the two leaders exchanged gifts: for Gorbachev, a rare atlas and an 1804 edition of The Life of George Washington; for Bush, an antique painting of Russian birch trees.

The leaders’ wives attracted summit-sized attention, as well. There was no sign of the prickly feuding that once caused First Lady Nancy Reagan to say of Raisa Gorbachev, “Who does that dame think she is?” Raisa Gorbachev seemed warmer and spoke less dogmatically than in the past, and she and Barbara Bush got along well as they made their rounds of formal dinners and museum visits.

They also made a formidable impression when they flew to Massachusetts to address the all-women Wellesley College graduating class on Friday. About 150 students had formally objected to the class’s invitation to Bush to make the commencement speech, arguing that a college dropout and homemaker was an inappropriate role model.

But Bush invited her Soviet counterpart, who holds a doctorate in philosophy, to address the students as well. And although Raisa Gor-

bachev received warm applause, it was Barbara Bush who clearly won the day. “Somewhere out in this audience,” she said, “may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the

president’s spouse. I wish him well.”

There were plenty of sideshows in Washington, as well. All of them took place under the watchful eyes of a security force of unspecified size—a Soviet spokesman called it “a big bunch of people with big guns.” About 1,500 Lithuanian-Americans rallied on the steps of

the Capitol to protest the Kremlin’s crackdown. And in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, the demonstrators included chanting Buddhists, singing Vietnamese, an AlDS-awareness rock band and Mikhail

Makarenko, a bearded former Soviet labor-camp prisoner who called darkly for Gorbachev to step down. “Go now,” said the 59-year-old Makarenko, “while the going is good, and you’ll preserve your life.”

When Gorbachev went into the streets of Washington, however, he received nothing but adulation. The overall response was lower-key than on his last visit, but Washingtonians and tourists alike quickly congregated when he jumped out of his boxy black Zil limousine two blocks from the White House on Thursday evening. “I yelled, ‘Yo, Gorby,’ ” said Bruce Werner, a 38-year-old corrections officer from Medina, N.Y., who hoisted his 10-year-old daughter, Katie, to his shoulders to take a picture. “I couldn’t believe he stopped,” Werner added. “It’s great, it’s fantastic.” Gorbachev apparently thought so too. “I feel really at home here,” he told the crowd.

At the signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Friday evening, Gorbachev praised Bush and the accomplishments of the summit, adding grandly, “We are ready to take on the responsibility of building a new civilization.” He finished his remarks by saying: “I think I have already said more than I have intended to say. I think it means that I am human, in the sense that I am emotional.”

After spending Saturday with Bush at Camp David, including a golf-cart tour of the wooded grounds, Gorbachev left Washington on Sunday aboard his jet for brief stops in Minneapolis and San Francisco, where he expected to meet former president Reagan. He said that he was looking forward to seeing

more of America, and he was clearly expecting a warm welcome before flying home—a successful summit behind him—to a host of intractable troubles.