President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev issued a strongly worded joint statement Sunday declaring unconditional support for economic and political sanctions against Iraq and warning that if current steps fail, they are "prepared to take additional ones consistent with the U.N. Charter."
"We are united in the belief that Iraq's aggression must not be tolerated," the leaders of the two nuclear superpowers declared at the conclusion of a one-day summit meeting here. "No peaceful international order is possible if larger states can devour their smaller neighbors."
So strong was Gorbachev's public endorsement of U.S. demands for an Iraqi retreat from Kuwait that Bush indicated he will ask Congress to approve maximum possible assistance for the Soviet Union's deteriorating economy--possibly including approval of most-favored-nation trade preferences.
Flying back to Washington on Air Force One afterward, the President described the joint statement as "superb."
"I couldn't ask for anything more out of a joint statement," he said.
The superpower solidarity that was exhibited "sends a clear signal to Saddam Hussein," Bush said. "I think it is going to send a very strong signal around the world, and I couldn't be more pleased."
Earlier, Bush made clear at a joint press conference that followed the two leaders' final session that if current economic and political sanctions against Iraq fail, the additional steps referred to in the final statement could include U.S. military action against the forces of Saddam Hussein.
However, in the interest of superpower unity, the President joined Gorbachev in publicly focusing on the quest for what the Soviet leader called a "political" solution to the gulf crisis.
Bush also softened previous Administration policy by accepting
the idea of exempting food and medical supplies needed for humanitarian purposes from the current embargo--as Gorbachev, along with the leaders of several other nations, has argued they must be.
The President acknowledged that he and Gorbachev "may have some differences" on the issue of using military force, but the emphasis at the summit's close was on unity.
Indeed, while asserting that he would like to see Moscow remove its remaining military advisers from Iraq and commit troops to the international force opposing Hussein, Bush dismissed the advisers issue as a "minor irritant" and insisted that he had not even brought up the question of expanding the Soviet military presence in the Persian Gulf.
Faced with a direct question about when the Administration might judge sanctions to have failed and force to be necessary, Bush refused to be pinned down. "We did not discuss military options," he said, adding: "Your question is too hypothetical. And I would like to see this matter peacefully resolved."
Nonetheless, the apparent U.S.-Soviet disagreement over the place of military force in resolving the gulf crisis could become critical down the road because U.S. officials involved in shaping this country's strategy have indicated they will periodically evaluate whether the sanctions are likely to achieve U.S. objectives.
If not, they have said, it may be necessary to resort to a military option.
After seven hours of discussions, Bush and Gorbachev said that "nothing short" of complete implementation of four U.N. Security Council resolutions adopted the day after Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait is acceptable.
The resolutions demand Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait, restoration of the tiny state's legitimate government and the freeing of all hostages now held in Iraq and Kuwait.
Bush said that because of Moscow's "remarkable cooperation" in pressing sanctions against Iraq, he will urge consideration of economic assistance for the Soviet Union when he addresses a joint session of Congress on the Persian Gulf crisis Tuesday night.
"This remarkable cooperation that has been demonstrated by the Soviet Union gets me inclined to recommend as close cooperation in the economic field as possible," Bush said.
Because of its own budget deficit and economic problems, Bush said, the United States is in no position to "write out large checks." But he said there are "many ways we can endeavor to be of assistance to the Soviet Union."
Before the summit, Bush had said he expected to discuss arms control issues with Gorbachev. And both leaders, at their final press conference, expressed hope once again that treaties on reducing strategic weapons and conventional forces in Europe can be completed before the end of the year.
But Administration officials said the subject was never addressed during the summit sessions because Bush and Gorbachev spent all their time together discussing the Persian Gulf crisis and the Soviets' economic problems.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze are expected to resume arms control discussions when they meet in Moscow on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Other issues, such as regional conflicts in Afghanistan and Cambodia, that were mentioned as possible topics by officials in Washington before the summit, apparently also never came up in the talks.
While their joint statement called on the world community to adhere to the sanctions mandated by the United Nations, and they pledged to work individually and in concert to ensure full compliance with the sanctions, it also stressed that the sanctions permit the importation of food into Iraq and Kuwait "in humanitarian circumstances."
Some of the countries supporting the sanctions have expressed concern that food needed for children and for some of the foreigners held hostage is being barred under the sanctions.
"Humanitarian circumstances" will be defined by the U.N. Sanctions Committee, which is now studying the issue, and the two leaders agreed that any such imports of food must be strictly monitored by appropriate international agencies "to ensure that food reaches only those for whom it is intended, with special priority being given to meeting the needs of children."
In both their statement and their hourlong press conference, Bush and Gorbachev demonstrated a strong sense of unity on the Persian Gulf crisis and pledged to continue cooperating until the crisis is resolved.
"Our preference is to resolve the crisis peacefully, and we will be united against Iraq's aggression as long as the crisis exists," they declared. "However, we are determined to see this aggression end, and if the current steps fail to end it, we are prepared to consider additional ones consistent with the U.N. Charter. We must demonstrate beyond any doubt that aggression cannot and will not pay."
Once the objectives of the U.N. resolutions have been achieved and it has been demonstrated that aggression does not pay, they said, their foreign ministers will be directed to work with countries in the Persian Gulf region and outside it to develop regional security structures and measures to promote peace and stability.
Although Bush said he had not asked Gorbachev to send troops to the Persian Gulf, he added that if Soviet troops were sent at the request of Saudi Arabia, "that would be fine with us." But Gorbachev, who has indicated a reluctance to send troops unless they are under a U.N. command, said that he doesn't "see the point of doing that now."
Asked by a Soviet journalist how long U.S. troops will be stationed in the Persian Gulf, Bush said they will remain until all of the U.N. resolutions on the gulf crisis have been complied with and the security needs of the region have been met. He said he told Gorbachev that the United States has no intention of "keeping them a day longer than required."
Gorbachev said he was assured by Bush that when the situation in the Persian Gulf returns to normal, the U.S. forces will be withdrawn, "and that is a very important statement."
Although Bush sought to play down the issue of Soviet advisers remaining in Iraq while U.S. and Iraqi troops are confronting each other near the Saudi Arabian border, it obviously is a nettlesome political problem for the White House. And when pressed on the matter, Bush said, "If I was just saying, would I like to see them all out of there, I think I'd say absolutely."
He said he would let Gorbachev "add to that," but the Soviet leader pointedly declined, declaring he had already answered the question by saying that their number was already being reduced from 196 to about 150 and that "the process" is going forward and he does not "think there's a problem."
Gorbachev appealed to Iraq--for years a staunch ally of the Soviets under a friendship and military treaty--to react carefully and positively to the U.N. sanctions.
Ever since the invasion of Kuwait, the Soviet leader said, he has been communicating not only with the United States and the U.N. Security Council and other Arab countries but also directly with Iraq's Hussein and has discussed with him various options for ending the crisis. He said he has tried to make it clear to him "that if Iraq were to provoke military action, then the result would be a tragedy first and foremost for the Iraqi people themselves, for the whole of the region and for the whole of the world."
He said he hopes Hussein will carefully weigh his steps and their implications for the world at large and for the Arab nations. "No one has any intention of trying to exclude Iraq from the community of nations," he said, "but what the present Iraqi leadership is doing is driving into a dead end. And I hope that President Saddam Hussein will heed this appeal to him."
The two leaders agreed that their cooperative approach to the Persian Gulf crisis would not have been possible had it not been for the maturing of U.S.-Soviet relations since the end of the Cold War and the understandings that the two of them developed in previous meetings at Malta and at Camp David.
"I think the world sees clearly that if this had occurred 20 years ago, there wouldn't have been this cooperative feeling at the United Nations," Bush said. "And I think it's very important."
Gorbachev said Bush had acknowledged that for a long time, the United States had a view that the Soviet Union "had nothing to do in the Middle East--had no business being there."
"This was something that we had to talk through during this meeting here in Helsinki," he said. "And what was said here is that it's very important for us to cooperate in the Middle East, just as it is on other issues of world politics."
Acknowledging that neither superpower can exercise the kind of influence that it once did over world events, Gorbachev said: "In today's world, no single country, however powerful, will be able to provide the leadership which individual countries formerly tried, including some countries which are represented here. We can only succeed if we work together and solve our problems together."
Earlier in the day, as the two leaders arrived at Finland's Presidential Palace for their meeting, Gorbachev told reporters that he was "optimistic this morning . . . and for the future, too."
And spokesmen for the two leaders continued to reflect that upbeat tone throughout the day.
"The whole meeting is taking place in a very optimistic and constructive atmosphere," Gorbachev's spokesman, Vitaly N. Ignatenko, told reporters whom he and White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater offered a briefing at the conclusion of the summit's morning session.
"We are united," Fitzwater said.
The morning session had been scheduled to last an hour but instead went on for nearly three hours. The two presidents were accompanied only by translators and one top aide on each side, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft for Bush and foreign policy adviser Yuri Chernyaev for Gorbachev.
As they were meeting Sunday, Secretary of State Baker and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze got together to talk about arms control issues, officials said.
Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush arrived at the Presidential Palace, built as the home for the Grand Duke of Finland when this country was part of the Russian Empire, about 9:45 a.m. Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, showed up in their black Zil limousine precisely at 10 carrying a gift for Bush, an 11-by-14-inch cartoon portraying the two leaders as victorious boxers with a referee whose head was a globe, holding their arms up. At their feet, a melting figure labeled "Cold War" lay on the canvas. "Knockout," the Russian caption said.
"That's wonderful," Bush said, laughing, as Gorbachev handed him the gift.
Later, as their wives toured Helsinki University, the two men posed for a photograph in front of a large gold statue of a woman with a shield, a sword and a bearskin draped over her head and shoulders standing in front of a lion.
The statue represents the virgin of Finland protecting the nation, the lion, from the Russian czars, a Finnish spokesman said.