President Bush ruled out at the Malta summit a proposal from Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to restrict the superpowers' navies, including removing nuclear weapons from surface warships, the White House said today.
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Bush told Gorbachev that "it was unacceptable to us because the United States is a naval power. We depend upon the seas for contact with all of our allies and with other continents of the world."
"The Soviet Union is a land-based power. But the Navy is crucial to us in terms of maintaining all of our commitments around the world, maintaining open sea lanes and commercial lanes around the world," he said.
"It simply is so key and vital to our basic role in world military affairs as well as commercial affairs that we cannot consider that," the spokesman said, adding that "I don't detect any flexibility at this point" on the issue.
Gorbachev expressed concern at the weekend summit that his country is surrounded by U.S. naval power, and even gave Bush a KGB-produced map of U.S. installations to hammer home the point. "He would like to see reductions in the naval forces," said Fitzwater.
"He gave us the chart, the map. We made some jokes that we'd fill in the blanks, and that was about it," the White House spokesman added.
The White House also announced today that Bush is delegating Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger to coordinate U.S. support to Eastern Europe, including the recently passed $938 million in aid for Poland and Hungary.
Bush met in the Oval Office today with former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi.
Craxi, prime minister from 1983 to 1987 as head of the Italian Socialist Party, said after the meeting that the Malta summit gave "a further impulse" to the changes taking place in Europe.