Mikhail S. Gorbachev announced before a global audience today that the Soviet Union will unilaterally cut its military forces 10% by half a million troops and reduce its forces in East Europe, then met with Ronald Reagan and George Bush at a lunch that closed one chapter in U.S.-Soviet relations and opened another.
Later, after viewing the Statue of Liberty with President Reagan and President-elect Bush, Gorbachev was asked whether he seeks anything in return for his military cuts.
"In developing our relations we can work only together, so we do hope that the United States and the Europeans will work with us and will also take certain steps," Gorbachev told reporters. He did not elaborate.
While the world leaders looked out over the harbor, reporters asked how their meeting went. Reagan said: "Look at our smiles."
Earlier, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly, Gorbachev said he wants to work with the new American President to make 1989 "a decisive year." He said he is ready to move toward a 50% slash in the superpowers' stockpiles of nuclear bombers, submarines and missiles and the elimination of chemical weapons.
One-time cold-warrior Reagan, meeting Gorbachev for the fifth time in a relationship that has become increasingly mellow, welcomed the Soviet leader's initiatives.
"It was not a proposal, it was a decision," Reagan said while seated at the luncheon table at Admiral's House on Governors Island.
"Naturally, I heartily approve," he said.
'Nyet, Nyet, Nyet!'
He said the United States will stand ready to reduce the number of troops in the armies of the Western Alliance as long as "this left us with a superiority."
As Gorbachev and Reagan began their fifth and final summit meeting, Gorbachev said his announcement is "a continuation and implementation" of a general outline of Soviet goals that he conceived as early as January, 1986.
Asked by reporters whether the Soviet military Establishment is resisting his plan, the Kremlin leader smiled and exclaimed, "Nyet, nyet, nyet !" The Soviets announced the retirement today of their longtime military chief of staff.
Gorbachev, belittling military power as a solution to international tensions, told the General Assembly that tens of thousands of tanks, as well as troops, will be withdrawn from Eastern European countries, and that other forces will be pulled out of Mongolia and Asia in a reduction in size of the Soviet military machine.
And he called for a Jan. 1 cease-fire in Afghanistan, for the creation of a U.N. force to keep the peace there, for the formation of a broad-based Afghan government and for an end to all arms shipments to either side in that country's war. The United States has been aiding anti-communist fighters in that war.
As Gorbachev arrived at the United Nations, about 1,000 demonstrators waved flags and chanted, demanding freedom for Soviet Jews. Police arrested 58. Another thousand Eastern European emigres demonstrated nearby. A group of Ukrainian emigres, many of them elderly, waved Ukrainian flags. Members of an Estonian group waved their national flag and chanted "One two three four, / Open up the iron door."
'Score Points Together'
While Gorbachev was spelling out his actions and his ideas, Reagan and Bush flew separately to New York to have lunch with him.
Reagan, Gorbachev and Bush--all three smiling in the bright sunshine and mild temperatures--posed for pictures on the steps of the two-story brick and columned Admiral's House. Two Civil War cannon stood outside the building, and the three steps to the front porch were flanked by the American and Soviet flags.
Said Gorbachev: "If we score any points, we can do it only together. If we try to score points alone, nothing good will happen."
Bush let Reagan do the speaking.
In his first response, Reagan reacted cautiously to Gorbachev's speech.
"I think he's sincerely dealing with the problems he has in his own country," Reagan said, adding, "We'll have to wait and see" about the response of the United States and its allies to Gorbachev's proposal for a reduction in forces in Eastern Europe. He said it is something the United States "had been suggesting" for some time.
He said that there have been no meaningful negotiations on conventional-force reductions and that the Soviet leader's proposal "is a unilateral action on their part."
Paraphrases John Donne
Speaking forcefully at the United Nations for a bit more than an hour, the Soviet leader paraphrased the English poet John Donne, saying, "The bell of every regional conflict tolls for all of us."
Gorbachev criticized the Reagan Administration on one action--its decision to deny a visa to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat so he could address the United Nations from the same podium he was using.
The General Assembly voted to hold a session in Geneva so Arafat could make his speech. Only Israel supported the U.S. action, taken on grounds that Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization sponsor terrorism. "We voice our deep regret over the incident," Gorbachev said.
On yet another front, Gorbachev pledged that Jews seeking to leave his country to be reunited with their families will be treated in a "humane spirit." But he said Soviet citizens will still be denied exit visas if they have knowledge of state secrets.
And he proposed creating an international organization that would help Third World countries alleviate their massive debt payments. Gorbachev said the Soviet Union would be willing to enforce a 100-year moratorium on debt repayment for some countries and to cancel debts altogether in some cases.
Worldwide, he said, military force no longer "can or must be an instrument of foreign policy."
'No Country Omnipotent'
"It is now quite clear that building up military power makes no country omnipotent," Gorbachev declared. "What's more, one-sided reliance on military power ultimately weakens other components of national security."
Gorbachev and his aides had long been hinting at the reduction but had been opposed by top Soviet generals, notably Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, the military chief of staff. Soviet spokesman Gennady Gerasimov said today that Akhromeyev had retired for "reasons of health."
Gorbachev's announcement is expected to give new momentum to long-stalled talks on reducing Warsaw Pact and NATO conventional forces in Central Europe and to improve the climate for a summit expected next spring between Gorbachev and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. China has cut its own ground forces by 1 million troops in the past four years, leaving it with about 4 million.
Gorbachev's visit to New York and the United Nations was the first by a Soviet leader since 1960, when an irate Nikita S. Khrushchev punctuated his rhetorical points by pounding his shoe on a desk in the General Assembly.
A unilateral Soviet troop reduction would begin to redress what the North Atlantic Treaty Organization describes as a more than 2-1 Warsaw Bloc edge in conventional arms in Europe.