It's been billed as the arms control summit, and today, if everything goes according to script, George Bush and Mikhail S. Gorbachev will wrap up much of their work in that area. The presidents are to announce a series of agreements on strategic arms, chemical weapons and nuclear testing, along with other accords involving the environment and culture.
But two questions remain: Will the two leaders also sign a trade treaty? And will they go beyond the nuclear arms treaty already negotiated and announce principles to guide a new, deeper round of strategic arms talks to come?
On nuclear arms, the anticipated strategic arms reduction treaty falls short of the widespread perception that it will provide for a 50% reduction in superpower weapons. Because only certain types of missile arsenals are being reduced by half, the overall reduction is closer to 30%. Aides say that Bush and Gorbachev are likely to announce plans for a START II treaty that would begin where the current round of negotiations stop.
A major question will be how the new negotiations deal with missiles with multiple warheads, which the Administration would like to see restricted. The Soviets would like to see new restrictions on cruise missiles, a category in which the United States has the lead.
The trade treaty, meanwhile, has been negotiated, checked over and printed. Both sides have approved it, and the Soviets would very much like to sign it, hoping that expanded trade with the United States might help their disintegrating economy. But the Administration is hesitating, in large part because of what Bush referred to as the "political climate" here at home.
American businessmen who want to invest in the Soviet Union or sell Soviet goods here must negotiate a daunting maze of regulations and discriminatory tariffs. At the summit meeting last December in Malta, Bush offered to normalize trade relations as a way of helping Gorbachev overcome the domestic problems he faces.
To normalize trade, two steps must be taken:
One is the signing of a trade treaty. The treaty spells out all the important details of commerce: How each nation will protect the other's patents and copyrights; whether American companies will be able to take profits they earn in the Soviet Union and spend them elsewhere; what protections will be offered against nationalization of American property, and so on.
The other step is a presidential decision to grant the Soviets "most-favored-nation" trade status, which would remove special tariffs against Soviet goods entering the country. Before that can happen, Bush must certify that the Soviets are allowing free emigration from their country. Bush says that certification, in turn, depends on the Soviets' passing a new emigration law that has been pending in the Soviet Parliament for months.
The Soviets had told American officials that the new emigration law would be approved by the time the summit started, but it has not been.
Because the new emigration law is not on the books yet, Bush cannot grant the Soviets most-favored-nation status. But he could agree to sign the new trade agreement, thus bringing improved economic ties one step closer. That would give Gorbachev a tangible benefit to talk about when he goes home, something the Administration would like to provide.
But Bush has come under pressure from conservatives to take a hard line with the Soviets as long as Gorbachev is unwilling to negotiate with independence leaders in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the Baltic republics that want to secede from the Soviet Union.
The Administration does not want to hold arms control agreements hostage, arguing that those deals help the United States as much, maybe more, than they help the Soviets. So trade, which the Soviets care about more than the Americans, has become the bargaining chip.
Administration officials publicly deny that the trade agreement is being held up for political reasons. But if the two men sign the trade agreement today, it will be a strong indication that Bush has received some other concession from Gorbachev--perhaps an agreement to negotiate with the Baltic leaders or perhaps movement in the Soviet position on Germany--that the President believes will allow him to disarm his potential domestic critics.