Summit Site Selected, Administration Seeks Lowered Expectations
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The superpowers announced Wednesday they had picked waters off Malta for next month’s Mediterranean summit as U.S. officials began preparing President Bush for a session with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev that they said would produce no startling breakthroughs.
A dramatic statement on American television by Gennady Gerasimov, the Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman, that the Dec. 2-3 shipboard summit could mark ″the end of the Cold War″ was shrugged off as overstatement.
Gorbachev is unlikely to ask Bush for specific economic assistance, a well- placed U.S. official said, adding, ″I don’t think we expect substantive results.″
Even concerning Eastern and Central Europe, where fast-moving political reform could challenge the Marxist system and the cohesion of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, Bush and Gorbachev are expected only to ″make sure we have good lines of communication,″ said the official, commenting only on condition of anonymity. ″It is not an area ripe for agreements,″ he said.
The low-key appraisal of a session Bush declines even to describe as a summit, stood in sharp contrast to the version conveyed to the American public by Soviet spokesman Gerasimov.
″I think that this meeting can just be the end of the Cold War,″ he said from Moscow on ″Good Morning America,″ an ABC-TV program. ″The Cold War will be dumped down to the bottom of the Mediterranean sea.″
Administration officials were hewing closely to Bush’s description Tuesday of a feet-up, informal, get-acquainted session with Gorbachev on American and Soviet naval vessels in order to ″deepen our respective understanding of each other’s views.″
The site, selected with the hope it could be kept at least partially secluded, was announced simultaneously Wednesday at the White House and in Moscow.
Malta is an independent republic consisting of five islands, two of them uninhabited. It lies 58 miles south of Sicily, 220 miles north of Libya and 180 miles east of Tunisia.
For years, Malta had strong ties to Col. Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan leader accused by the United States of fomenting bloody acts of terrorism. But over the past two years the government has taken a sharp turn and welcomed American investment.
Preparations for the meeting, initiated in July by Bush and kept secret from most of the U.S. bureaucracy, began in earnest with officials of the State Department and the National Security Council drawing up the issues to be fleshed out in position papers.
Before Bush packs them in his briefcase, Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Brent Scowcroft, the president’s national security adviser, will review them and probably highlight specific items and subjects they feel ought to be stressed.
The Pentagon and other government offices will be invited to contribute. But, again emphasizing the limited U.S. summit expectations, the U.S. official said the National Security Council would not hold a meeting on the summit during the 4 1/2 weeks before Bush sees Gorbachev.
The principal summit topic of discussion is expected to be Gorbachev’s arduous attempt to boost the faltering Soviet economy through a reconstruction program known as perestroika. It is spilling over into the political arena, encouraging political reform at home and in Eastern Europe.
The Soviet leader is bound to describe in detail to Bush the problems he faces. But, the officials said, Moscow has given no indication through diplomatic channels that Gorbachev would ask for specific technical or other U.S. help.
The Bush administration has already told Moscow trade barriers erected by Congress in the Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1974 will not be removed until the Soviets complete legislation liberalizing emigration procedures.
″Asking for direct help would not be suitable,″ an official said. ″It’s one thing to talk about your problems. It’s another to appear to be relying on the United States for help. The Soviets are strongly independent about this.″
As preparations got under way, favorable reaction from Congress grew.
″It is a good time to have a meeting,″ said Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, the deputy Republican Senate leader.
″I think a saltwater summit is a good idea,″ said Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D- Texas. ″An informal meeting at sea could provide the right atmosphere to get things moving in several channels, including trade as well as arms control.″
At this stage, however, Bentsen’s expectations did not square with the administration’s modest goals. And that suited Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., perfectly.
″I hope that no fundamental decisions of any sort will be made,″ he said.
In this vein, Marlin Fitzwater, the White House spokesman, momentarily referred to the meeting as a summit and than retracted what he called ″the ‘S’ word.″
Chuckling, he advised reporters: ″Let’s call this ‘the meeting,’ the ’Big M.‴