THE REYKJAVIK SUMMIT : Reporter’s Notebook : Early Bird Gets the Door in Reagan-Gorbachev Gaffe

Times Staff Writer

In their first encounter since Geneva 11 months ago, President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev entangled themselves Saturday in a slight problem of timing.

Gorbachev’s black Zil limousine arrived a minute or two earlier than scheduled at the turn-of-the-century mansion that is serving as the site of the meetings. Gorbachev, wearing a coat but clutching his hat in his hand, rushed to the door in the drizzling rain. Reagan, who had arrived earlier and had been scheduled to greet Gorbachev at the door, was not there.

The Soviet leader reached for the doorknob, but Reagan, clearly embarrassed, snapped the door open himself and rushed out to shake Gorbachev’s hand. Gorbachev pointed to his wristwatch and smiled.


Once inside, the two leaders sat in stiff, wooden arm chairs and posed for cameramen. A reporter asked Reagan if they could do business. “That’s why we are here,” the President replied.

A photographer moving closer to the leaders hit a chandelier with his camera. “Don’t break the chandeliers,” cautioned Gorbachev. “They belong to the Icelandic government.

Earlier, when Reagan entered the mansion, which is known as the Hofdi and usually serves as a ceremonial site for the city of Reykjavik, a reporter shouted, “Are you going to give away the store?”

Reagan looked at the questioner a little oddly and replied, “I don’t own the store.”

The Hofdi, the meeting site, was shielded by enormous canvas screens. Police officers told journalists they were there to prevent outsiders from lip-reading any conversations through the windows.

The screens apparently prevented the two leaders from witnessing a nautical cat-and-mouse game being played in the bay beyond the mansion’s windows between the Greenpeace ship Sirius and an Icelandic gunboat named for the pagan god Tyr.

The environmentalist group’s ship was trying to enter the bay to display a banner reading “The World Demands a Test Ban Treaty.” The Tyr was determined to kept it out. The Icelandic government does not want protest demonstrations during the summit, and the two ships kept maneuvering back and forth until the Sirius was forced to detour to Harnarfjodur, six miles south of the capital.


There is little affection for Greenpeace in Iceland these days. For the last few months, Greenpeace has been savaging the Icelandic government’s whale research project, denouncing it as a subterfuge for killing whales for profit.

Neither White House nor Moscow correspondents are used to confessions of guilt and apologies for error from government press officers.

So there was some puzzlement when a notice was posted at the conference press center from Magnus Torfi Olafsson, the spokesman of the Icelandic government. Olafsson had made a mistake in listing the reporters assigned to press pools covering various stages of the conference.

Olafsson, in the notice, apologized for his error and added that the mistake was “my sole responsibility, and I am sorry for annoyance and vexation this may have caused both members of the press and the staff of the press center.”

An American reporter staying at the Saga Hotel, press headquarters for the Soviet delegation, found a telephone in his room with the words “open line” written on it in Russian.

When he picked up the receiver, a voice asked in Russian: “Which number do you want in Moscow?” Taking no chances about upsetting the Soviet delegation, the reporters gently placed the phone back on the hook.

Reagan aides have stuck closely to the guidelines for the news blackout imposed on the summit by both sides at the President’s request.

Patrick J. Buchanan, the White House communications director who is here working on the televised report that Reagan will make to the American people at the conclusion of the summit, flatly refused to say anything about the summit when contacted by a reporter.

“Not this horse,” Buchanan declared. “We’ve got a news blackout going on. You caught me just as I was going out to buy a hat. I’m going out running. Goodby.”

Times staff writer William J. Eaton contributed to this story.