President Bush urged Mikhail S. Gorbachev on the eve of their superpower summit today to help mold "a future free of both tyranny and fear."
"Our meeting here off Malta will last two days but the freedoms that we seek must last for generations," the President said in anticipation of his first summit session with the Soviet leader.
Bush was the first to arrive for the two days of shipboard summit talks. But his last-minute summit preparations were interrupted by an attempted coup in the Philippines, which he sought to snuff out by committing U.S. air support to forces loyal to President Corazon Aquino.
Gorbachev, who met Pope John Paul II in Rome today, arranged an evening arrival for the summit, taking place against a backdrop of stunning change in Eastern Europe that has swept hard-line regimes from power. The two men are also expected to discuss arms control, trade relations and conflicts such as Afghanistan and Nicaragua as well.
Gray clouds, cold weather and choppy seas set the scene for the talks being conducted on U.S. and Soviet warships anchored in the harbor off the coast of this Mediterranean island. Malta's entire 1,200-man military and most of its 1,000 police were out in force to protect the superpower leaders.
U.S. and Maltese patrol boats circled and frogmen checked the waters as Bush landed by helicopter on the American guided missile cruiser Belknap, his command post and the meeting site Sunday for the summit. The summit will open Saturday morning on the Soviet guided missile cruiser Slava.
During a brief visit to the American aircraft carrier Forrestal, Bush called Gorbachev "a dynamic new Soviet leader willing . . . to think anew."
"And we want him to succeed," the President said. "Because we do admire the people in the Soviet Union. And we know that ours is a historic opportunity to foster the peace." Bush expressed hope that "ours can be a future free of both tyranny and fear."
He presented the Forrestal's crew with a piece of the crumbling Berlin Wall as "a symbol of the peace we seek."
He watched a demonstration of warplanes being catapulted off the deck and screeching into the sky. A thunderous sonic boom from an F-14 caught him by surprise, and Bush's knees buckled and he ducked. He recovered quickly with a sheepish grin and a funny face for cameras.
The Malta summit is the first superpower meeting since Gorbachev met then-President Ronald Reagan in New York last December. Bush attended that meeting as vice president.
Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III will lead a six-person U.S. delegation, while Gorbachev and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze will lead the eight-person Soviet team.
Bush, who is expected to make the opening presentation Saturday, convened a meeting in the Belknap wardroom of senior U.S. advisers, focusing on issues "which will demonstrate the U.S. desire for progress and improvement in East-West relations," said White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater.
Echoing statements by U.S. officials, a top Soviet spokesman said today he doubted that any agreements would be signed during the summit.
"I think President Bush is right when he says there will be no concrete agreement signed during the actual meeting," said Valentin Falin, head of the International Department of the Soviet Communist Party.