2 Leaders Stroll by the Lake Amid Signs of Hope on a Cloudy Day

Times Staff Writer

At 10:01 on this wintry Tuesday morning, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev stepped out of his limousine into the chilling winds from nearby Lake Leman, smiled, slipped off his hat and rushed up the portico of the mansion known as Fleur d’Eau to take the hand of President Reagan.

The President, in turn, smiled and seemed to joke. Gorbachev gestured at Reagan, a show of polite wonder at the hardiness of the President standing in the cold without a topcoat.

Then the two most powerful antagonists in the world stepped through the doors of a 19th-Century gray stone mansion and vanished behind a cloak of diplomatic silence, carrying with them like ancient monarchs the hopes and apprehensions of all who live beneath the shadow of their armed might.

Because officials refused to describe the talks that followed in even the most general way, the world, on the first day of the long-awaited Reagan-Gorbachev summit, was left to try to pull some hint of what was going on from the mood of the scene, the fleeting images of the men themselves.


Perhaps the most compelling was a brief passage that no outsider saw at all, a tableau that came poignantly to life even in the arid chronicle of an official briefing:

During the afternoon meeting, according to White House spokesman Larry Speakes, the President unexpectedly brought the plenary session to an early close and, leaving both U.S. and Soviet aides behind, invited Gorbachev to stroll with him alongside Lake Leman, also known as Lake Geneva.

The two men, Reagan in a blue topcoat and a scarf, Gorbachev in a topcoat and a hat, walked on a gravel path by the lovely lake on a brisk day trying to sort out troubling issues--a scene that must have looked like a tranquil impressionist painting.

Despite the dark, low clouds and the cold that hung over Geneva from first to last, it was a day that brimmed with small outward signs of hope--from the first public handshake and smiles to an even more opulent public display when they resumed their meetings after lunch and the decision to spend longer than planned talking to each other alone. The setting, carefully landscaped grounds hemmed in by forest at the side of the lake, seemed chosen by the Americans on their day as hosts to foster a tranquil mood.


The two leaders began their conversations in a small blue room heated by a fireplace. They did not begin alone. Scores of journalists, photographers and cameramen came through for a few minutes each in three great waves.

“Mr. General Secretary,” asked Sam Donaldson of ABC-TV News, “Andrei Gromyko once said of you that you have a nice smile but iron teeth--I guess meaning you’re tough. What do you have to say about that, sir?”

Gorbachev replied with good humor. “It hasn’t yet been confirmed,” he said in Russian. “As of now, I am still using my own teeth. But, as to the substance of your question, both the President and I have good grounds to believe we can have a good talk.”

Seemed Troubled By Questions


Each group of reporters asked more questions, and the two leaders seemed a bit troubled by them, perhaps anxious for their own conversations to resume without interruption. In a few minutes, the two were left alone.

Scheduled to meet for 15 minutes, they remained instead for one hour and four minutes, agreeing, it was announced later, that there would be no press briefings on the substance of the talks until the summit was over.

Kremlin spokesman Leonid M. Zamyatin did say later, however, that “the tete-a-tete was not just a get acquainted session; substantial issues were discussed.”

The two leaders then stepped into a large room to meet around a massive oval table with their advisers and aides, seven for each side. These men, including Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, had been milling about in the room, staring over the lake, waiting. Reagan was smiling broadly, Gorbachev looked more serious as they entered.


When they returned after lunch, there was a chance for outsiders to make comparisons, for the two men were repeating their morning scene. Gorbachev’s limousine, its small Soviet flag flapping in the wind, arrived at 2:32 p.m. Gorbachev kept his hat on this time as he stepped out but offered President Reagan a much warmer smile.

The President asked, “Did you have a good lunch?” It was the same question the President had asked the shivering journalists and cameramen a few minutes earlier. They had shouted back, “No.” He had shaken his head consolingly.

The Soviet leader, who had just spent almost an hour receiving a nuclear freeze petition from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, did not reply to the President’s question but pointed at the dark blue topcoat that Reagan was now wearing. The President had clearly accepted the Soviet leader’s morning advice.

Reagan waved to the press. Gorbachev held up his hand. “We don’t have to stop,” Reagan said, and the two men entered the mansion once more.


It was during this afternoon session that Reagan initiated the walk along the lake and the second round of personal talk.

After their five-minute walk, Speakes said, they stopped in a small pool-house on the grounds that had a roaring fire and spoke for almost an hour.

Some journalists questioned the spontaneity of this scene. If it was all so unexpected, reporters asked Speakes at a press briefing later, why was the fire going when they got there?

“I would imagine it was one of those pool-houses that has a 24-hour-a-day fireplace,” Speakes replied.


The scene changed in the evening as Reagan and his wife, Nancy, drove to the Villa Rose on the Soviet Mission compound where the Gorbachevs hosted them at dinner. They ate in an old-fashioned room with four candelabras and high-backed chairs around a long, narrow, wooden table.

Reporters, allowed in for a few moments, asked Gorbachev why he and the President had spent so much time alone during the day.

“We think it’s useful,” the Soviet leader replied through an interpreter, “to have face-to-face contact.”

Reagan was asked how the talks were going. “We’re still smiling,” he said.