President Bush said today he and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev will meet off the coast of Malta not as traditional adversaries but as envoys for “positive, productive change.”
“Ours is a powerful, historic opportunity,” Bush said during a ceremony in the wind-swept White House Rose Garden marking his departure for the first summit between the two superpower leaders.
Bush and Gorbachev confer Saturday and Sunday on American and Soviet warships off the coast of Malta in the Mediterranean for what officially has been described as informal talks designed to give the two leaders a chance to assess the other.
“Mr. Gorbachev and I are not in some kind of competition,” Bush said of the Soviet leader, whose flare for the dramatic has put him at the center of attention.
“This meeting represents a point of departure, the beginning of a process as full of promise as any that we’ve known,” said Bush, who initially sought to downplay expectations of what he called the “non-summit summit.”
“Given the remarkable and rapid change in Eastern Europe, our meeting will be yet another important step in this long but hopeful journey toward a Europe that is indeed whole and free,” Bush said.
The President, who planned an early evening departure aboard Air Force One, stressed his support for Gorbachev’s program of reform, even as he hailed the changes sweeping Eastern Europe.
“America understands the magnitude of Mr. Gorbachev’s challenges and let there be no misunderstanding, we support perestroika, " he said.
Bush’s send-off ceremony was attended by nearly 300 Administration officials who filled the Rose Garden under blue skies and brisk winds.
As he left after the six-minute speech, Bush told reporters: “I’m ready for the meeting. I’m ready and confident.”
Earlier, at a Cabinet meeting called to preview the session, Bush said he was confident that “Gorbachev is looking at the meeting very much the same way we are.”
He also said he received a full report Wednesday night from Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on his own meetings in Moscow last week with Gorbachev.
Mulroney told reporters Gorbachev isn’t looking for “miracles” from Malta but deserves help from the West such as observer status at world trade talks.
Bush, in an interview Wednesday with newspaper correspondents that was released today by the White House, said the unfolding changes in the once hard-line Communist states in Eastern Europe have given “more of an urgency” to the meeting since he first proposed it in July. But he insisted, “There’s been no change, in my view, as to what this meeting is to be about.”
Asked if the United States had sent Gorbachev the message that it wants no surprises at Malta, Bush said: “We’ve sent the message that we don’t think there are going to be any.