President Bush announced today that he will hold a shipboard summit with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Dec. 2 and 3 aboard American and Soviet naval vessels in the Mediterranean. A similar announcement was made simultaneously in Moscow by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
"It's a chance to put our feet up and talk," Bush said of the plans for an unexpectedly early meeting between the superpower leaders.
"The upcoming talks between the Soviet and American leaders will be informal, aimed at allowing them to know each other better," Shevardnadze told reporters halfway around the world.
In his nationally televised announcement at the White House, Bush said, "I made the proposal" for the meeting. He said an arms control summit with Gorbachev will take place as scheduled next year, "separate and apart" from the two days of talks in December.
"The meeting is not being set up to achieve agreements" on arms control or other issues, he stressed, but added, "I would hope we'll see eye to eye."
Bush said the Mediterranean summit over a Saturday and Sunday would permit the two men "to deepen our understanding." He said neither he nor Gorbachev expects "substantial decisions" to be made in the two days of talks.
"In this time of change, I didn't want to miss something," Bush said. "I don't want to have two gigantic ships pass in the night because of failed communications." The unusual summit is to be held one day on an American ship at sea, and the other day on a Soviet vessel.
A decision was made to hold the meeting on two ships in the Mediterranean, a senior Administration official said, 'because they wanted it informal, isolated" and to promote the concept of neutrality.
The announcements in Washington and Moscow came at a time when Bush is under pressure from congressional Democrats to demonstrate more flexibility in responding to the dramatic changes in the Soviet Union and especially in other Eastern European countries, including Hungary and Poland.
Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) said the meeting will be "useful" and he commended the President for initiating it. But, Mitchell said, the announcement does not prompt him to take back his criticism that Bush's policies toward the blossoming of democracy in Eastern Europe have been overly "timid."
Gorbachev is under pressure of a different sort at home--to demonstrate that his policies of perestroika, or economic restructuring, can improve the daily lives of millions of Soviet citizens.
Bush spoke at a hastily arranged news conference at the White House and then paused long enough to answer questions for nearly 45 minutes.
In Moscow, Shevardnadze began to speak a few minutes before Bush did and he told a large gathering of reporters that the meeting "should be regarded as the most important stage in preparing negotiations which will take place during the official state visit by Mikhail Gorbachev" to the United States next year.
Of the December summit, Shevardnadze said, "I do not doubt that this meeting between the two leaders would contribute to broadening the changes taking place in the Soviet-American relationship."