Off the coast of Malta in a Soviet ship named the Maxim Gorky, U.S. President George Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met within weeks of the fall of the Berlin Wall to discuss the rapid changes in Europe. Bush expressed support for perestroika and other reforms in the Eastern bloc, and both men recognized the lessening of tensions that had defined the Cold War.
No agreements were signed at the summit, but to some it marked the end of the Cold War. Following are excerpted transcripts of conversations between Bush and Gorbachev on December 2-3, 1989. The transcript from the second day of talks includes remarks by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and U.S. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.
The Malta Summit
December 2, 1989
George Bush: … Since the idea of this summit was proposed many important events have been taking place in the international arena. I assume that during the forthcoming exchange we will be able to share our views of these changes, not only in Eastern Europe, but also in other regions, in order to improve our mutual understanding of where we stand. I am in favor of not only an exchange in the presence of our delegations, but only on eye-to-eye basis. I believe we should meet more often.
Mikhail Gorbachev: I agree. I have a feeling that we have already talked, and this meeting is the continuation of our useful conversations.
George Bush: Precisely. … Concerning our attitude toward perestroika. I would like to say as clearly as possible that I agree completely with what you said in New York: The world would be better if perestroika succeeds. Not long ago there was considerable doubt about this in the United States. Back in New York [in December 1988] you said there were elements that did not wish for the success of perestroika. I cannot say that there are no such elements in the United States. But I can definitively say that serious, thinking people in the United States do not share such opinions. These shifts in public mood in the United States are affected by the changes in Eastern Europe, the whole process of perestroika. … I would like now to lay out a number of positive initiatives that, in our opinion, could in general outline directions for our joint work to prepare an official summit in the United States. […]
[Bush also touched on regional issues, including the position of the United States with regard to the situation in Central America. Then he proposed to discuss the issues of disarmament.]
George Bush: We would like to inquire if it is possible for the Soviet Union to publish roughly the same amount of data on the Soviet military budget as we do in the United States. I believe that our publications give a rather comprehensive impression about what kind of military activities are undertaken in our country. I am sure that your intelligence services can confirm this authoritatively.
Mikhail Gorbachev: They report to me, on the contrary, that you do not publish everything.
George Bush: I am convinced that the publication of more detailed data on military budgets, on a mutual basis, would encourage trust in this sphere. […]
Mikhail Gorbachev: … I would like to share with you some of my thoughts of a philosophical nature. I believe it is important for us both to discuss which lessons should be drawn from past experience, from the Cold War. …
Not everything that has taken place should be considered in a negative light. For 45 years we have been managing to avoid a big war. This single fact alone says that not everything was bad in the past. Nevertheless, one conclusion is obvious — the reliance on force, on military superiority and the arms race that stemmed from it, did not withstand the test. And our two countries seem to realize it better than anyone else. To no avail was the ideological confrontation which kept us busy maligning each other. We reached a dangerous brink. And it is good that we managed to stop. It is good that mutual trust emerged between our two countries. …
Cold War methods, methods of confrontation suffered a strategic defeat. We have come to this realization. And common people have realized this, perhaps even better. I do not want to preach here. People simply interfere into policy making. Ecological problems, problems of preservation of natural resources, problems with regard to bad consequences of technological progress. And all this is understandable, essentially this is a question of survival. And this kind of public mood is strongly affecting us, politicians.
Therefore, we together — the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. — can do a lot on this stage to change radically our old approaches. We had already felt it in our contacts with the Reagan administration. And this process continues today. Look how we opened ourselves to each other. …
But in both countries there are people — and quite a few of them — who simply scare us. … Why do I mention this? From American political circles one hears a thesis: the Soviet Union has begun its perestroika, has been changing its line under the pressure of the Cold War policy [of the United States]. They say that everything is crumbling in Eastern Europe and that this proves that those who had relied on Cold War methods were right. And if so, nothing should be changed in this policy. One should increase pressure and prepare more baskets to collect fruits. Mr. President, this is a dangerous illusion. […]
You considered the question: what kind of Soviet Union is in the U.S. interest — the dynamic, stable, solid one or the one struggling with all kinds of problems. I am informed about the advice you have been receiving. …
George Bush: I hope you noticed that while the changes in Eastern Europe have been going on, the United States has not engaged in condescending declarations aimed at damaging the Soviet Union. There are people in the United States who accuse me of being too cautious. It is true I am a prudent man, but I am not a coward, and my administration will seek to avoid doing anything that would damage your position in the world. But I was insistently advised to do something of that sort — to climb the Berlin Wall and to make broad declarations. My administration, however, is avoiding these steps, we are in favor of reserved behavior.
Mikhail Gorbachev: I welcome your words. I regard them as a manifestation of political will. It is important for me. …
Now on Central America. … I want to emphasize again: we pursue no goals in Central America. We do not want to gain bridgeheads, strong-points, you should be certain of this.
The Malta Summit
December 3, 1989
Mikhail Gorbachev: I reaffirmed our principle position regarding the U.S. role in Europe on purpose. There are too many speculations on this issue. They are fed to you, and to us. We should be absolutely clear on such important matters. Now about the changes in Europe. They really are of fundamental character. And not only in Eastern Europe — in Western Europe too. I received the representatives of the Trilateral Commission. After one of our conversations, Giscard d’Estaing, who was the speaker, addressed me, and said in a very meaningful way: “Be ready to deal with a united federal state of Western Europe.” By saying that, I think, he meant that when the European integration reaches the qualitatively new level in 1992, that would be accompanied by a deep restructuring of the political structures, which would also reach a stage of federation.
Therefore, all Europe is on the move, and it is moving in the direction of something new. We also consider ourselves Europeans, as we associate the idea of the common European home with this movement. I would like to ask E.A. Shevardnadze and Secretary of State Baker to discuss the idea in depth, because, I think, it is in the interests of both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. We should act — and interact — in a more responsible and balanced way in this period when entire Europe is undergoing such dynamic changes.
George Bush: I agree with you. […]
That is what I was telling Primakov. He said that he came to learn from the U.S. Congress. And I said to him: “Leave that idea alone.” If you want to build a new system that really works, do not look at our relations with Congress as a model. In general the system is not bad, but sometimes, I am close to desperation.
Mikhail Gorbachev: That is right. Foreign experience should be studied, but we should only adopt something from it if it fits our context. […]
There are two realities in Afghanistan — the opposition and Najibullah. Let us help them interact. And what they agree on — is their business. The Soviet Union will accept any decision. Najibullah is ready for such an open dialogue, and we should not issue ultimatums, or demand his departure. Who will take him out? Do you want us to introduce our troops there again?
James Baker: Stop your massive assistance to Kabul.
Mikhail Gorbachev: Let us stop these empty conversations. Stop thinking that you know everything. You predicted Najibullah’s collapse after the withdrawal of Soviet troops many times. They have such a complex situation there that no simple solution will do.
George Bush: To tell the truth, I am surprised to hear that the tribal leaders are already for talks with Najibullah.
Mikhail Gorbachev: Not just ready, they are already talking to him one by one. You can ask Hekmatyar, for example.
George Bush: We are not in contact with him.
Eduard Shevardnadze: But the CIA is.
Brent Scowcroft: We are not trying to prevent the Mujahadeen from contacts with Najibullah.
Mikhail Gorbachev: We also probably know only about a small part of these contacts. The East is the East.
George Bush: I completely agree with you.
Mikhail Gorbachev: Let our ministers continue this useful conversation.
James Baker: We need the Mujahedeen’s agreement to the idea of a “transition period.” Before, the opposition did not want any contacts with Najibullah. Now they are sending us signals that they are ready to begin talks about a transition period with Najibullah at the table. But that is on one condition — that there would be an understanding from the very beginning, that at the end of the transition period Najibullah would step down, and a new government would be formed. Here, a United Nations participation could be helpful, including holding an international conference. These are the precise positions from which the American delegation spoke in Wyoming.
Mikhail Gorbachev: We can discuss your ideas.
James Baker: If the Mujahadeen agree, then the next government could include PDPA elements, but only if we have a clear understanding that there would be no Najibullah or his close supporters in it.
Eduard Shevardnadze: Let them decide it on their own.
Mikhail Gorbachev: The dialogue will clarify this issue. The idea of a transition period in itself is reasonable, because it allows the two realities to interact. If the Afghans themselves decide that Najibullah has to go — let it be so. It is their business. Nobody imposes this on them.
George Bush: That would be good.
James Baker: But the Mujahadeen will simply not sit at the negotiating table if they do not know that at the end of the transition period there will be a new head of government in Afghanistan.
Mikhail Gorbachev: And who could give them such a guarantee? If they are so confident that their positions are strong, why would they worry?
James Baker: There is a new element that appeared recently. The opposition at last is ready to talk to Najibullah about the conditions of forming the new government. But they have to be sure that in the end Najibullah would step down in the interest of peace. […]