Joint Press Conference of President Bush and Chairman Gorbachev at the Malta Summit
US President George H. W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev held their first summit early in December 1989 onboard a Soviet cruise ship docked off the coast of Malta. Prior to arriving, Gorbachev wondered if he would be able to establish a relationship of trust with Bush as he had achieved with other Western leaders, since information coming into the Kremlin indicated that Bush’s thinking was heavily influenced by those on the right who sought a weakened Soviet state. In fact, Bush’s secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, did support the continuance of hard-line policies and Vice-President Dan Quayle took the stance that perestroika primarily was a maneuver designed to deceive the US into removing forces of deterrence to Soviet aggression. Bush and his secretary of state James Baker, however, decided to use the summit to show their support for Gorbachev’s program of reform. Bush began the meeting with a long presentation of some twenty specific proposals that the US was prepared to initiate, including efforts to normalize trade and move forward on arms control agreements. Gorbachev realized that with these concrete proposals, as he later wrote, “We had finally crossed the Rubicon. . . . I firmly believed that we had succeeded in breaking out of the vicious circle, in which short springs of détente had been inevitably followed by long winters of confrontation.” At the conclusion of the talks, during which Gorbachev told Bush that the Soviet Union was “ready no longer to regard the United States as an adversary,” the two leaders engaged in the first joint press conference by Soviet and US leaders, excerpts of which appear below. To some participants and historians, the informal Malta summit has come to signify the end of the Cold War.
George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, interview by Journalists, Marsaxlokk Harbor, Malta, December 3, 1989, Bush Presidential Library, Documents and Papers, Bush Library (accessed May 14, 2008).
The President. . . . I'm especially glad we had this meeting. And we did gain a deeper understanding of each other's views. We set the stage for progress across a broad range of issues. . . . And there is virtually no problem in the world, and certainly no problem in Europe, that improvement in the U.S.-Soviet relationship will not help to ameliorate. A better U.S.-Soviet relationship is to be valued in and of itself, but it also should be an instrument of positive change for the world.
. . . [N]ow, with reform underway in the Soviet Union, we stand at the threshold of a brand-new era of U.S.-Soviet relations. . . .
The Chairman. . . . Our meeting was characterized by openness, by a full scope of the exchange of views. Today it is even difficult, and perhaps there is no sense, to explain the entire range of issues that we have discussed. I wish to say right away, nevertheless, that on all the major issues we attempted in a frank manner, using each side's arguments, to explain our own positions, both with regard to the assessment of the situation and the current changes in the world and Europe and as it regards disarmament issues. . . .
The President and I myself also felt it necessary to exchange views on our perception, both from Moscow and Washington, of the hot points on our planet. And this exchange of views was very significant and thorough. We reaffirmed our former positions that all those acute issues must be resolved by political methods, and I consider that this was a very important statement of fact. . . .
Q. Chairman Gorbachev, President Bush called on you to end the cold war once and for all. Do you think that has been done now?
The Chairman. In the first place, I assured the President of the United States that the Soviet Union would never start a hot war against the United States of America, and we would like our relations to develop in such a way that they would open greater possibilities for cooperation. Naturally, the President and I had a wide discussion -- rather, we sought the answer to the question where we stand now. We stated, both of us, that the world leaves one epoch of cold war and enters another epoch. This is just the beginning. We're just at the very beginning of our long road to a long-lasting peaceful period.