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National Archives

Public Papers - 1989 - December

Statements by Press Secretary Fitzwater on the President's Meetings With Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta


The President called Vice President Quayle at approximately 6:30 p.m. last evening for an update on the situation in the Philippines. The Vice President reported that the situation is improving. The President got up at 7 a.m. this morning and had breakfast with Secretary Baker, Governor Sununu, and General Scowcroft. The President received a detailed report on the situation in the Philippines. He also received his regular intelligence briefing.

Overnight the winds picked up in Marsaxlokk Bay, Malta, where the cruiser Belknap and the Soviet cruiser Slava are anchored about 400 yards apart. Maximum sustained winds in the early morning hours were 30 - 36 knots from the northeast, with gusts up to 42 knots. The two ships, both of which are anchored at the bow and stern, dragged their stern anchors. The relative position of the two ships remains the same. There was no danger to anyone aboard Belknap as a result of the high winds. However, the winds make it difficult to disembark from launches at the Slava and the Belknap. Therefore, this morning's first meeting has been shifted to the Soviet ship Gorky at anchor in Malta. The ceremonial activities will be canceled. The first meeting will begin at 10 a.m.

President Bush and Chairman Gorbachev spent approximately 5 hours together onboard the Soviet cruise liner Gorky, from 10:05 a.m. to 3 p.m. In the first expanded meeting, which included the full Soviet and U.S. delegations, President Bush and Chairman Gorbachev had a very productive, informal, and substantive meeting. They covered a wide range of issues of interest to their two countries.

President Bush spoke for more than an hour to open the meeting, laying out more than a dozen ideas for economic and political progress in U.S.-Soviet relations. The discussion ranged from the economic situation in Eastern Europe to arms control and Central America. Chairman Gorbachev spoke at length of perestroika and the goals of his reform program. The President emphasized his support for the success of perestroika. He set forth his ideas as a broad framework for actions that would help the two nations work together for peace and prosperity.

The expanded bilateral lasted until after noon. Attending the expanded bilateral were President Bush, Secretary Baker, Governor Sununu, General Scowcroft, Marlin Fitzwater, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz, Counselor to the Department of State Robert Zoellick, and Robert Blackwill. On the Soviet side attending were Chairman Gorbachev, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, A. Yakovlev, A. Bessmertnykh, A. Chernyayev, A. Dobrynin, S. Akhromeyev, and Gennadiy Gerasimov.

Immediately after the expanded bilateral, the two leaders began a one-on-one session, with notetakers, which lasted until nearly 1:30 p.m. The President and the Chairman had lunch aboard the Gorky, so that their conversation was almost continuous from 10:05 a.m. until 3 p.m. The meetings were marked by a spirit of forward-looking cooperation during these increasingly changing times. They recognized that economic and political challenges were ahead for Eastern Europe and vowed to consider the opportunities presented with sensitivity and firm initiative.

President Bush and his party returned to Belknap immediately after the luncheon. The barge rolled somewhat through the high seas and was able to tie up alongside Belknap at about 3:30 p.m. President Bush sat in the front seat near the helm and said he enjoyed the sea experience. The President thought the morning session was extremely productive and looks forward to this evening's meeting. Tentative plans are to return to the Gorky at approximately 5:30 p.m. for another expanded meeting and then have dinner on the Gorky. Due to the high seas, the President suggested that the second meeting and the dinner be held on the Gorky.

Due to weather conditions, plans to leave Belknap have been delayed until at least 8 p.m. The possibility of leaving the ship at that time will be assessed in terms of dinner plans and another meeting.

At 11:44 a.m., the commanding officer of Belknap ordered his crew to slip the stern anchor, and the ship has been steaming toward the bow anchor, a better holding position. When the wind subsides, the stern anchor will be reset. Slava is holding her position with the help of tugs on the bow and stern. Weather forecasters on the two ships are sharing information. The wind has caused 3- to 4-foot seas inside the sheltered harbor. Seas outside the harbor are 16 feet and building. The forecast calls for the low pressure cell to move east, away from Malta, allowing winds to decrease to 20 - 25 knots tonight and tomorrow.

The President has been viewing the storm from the bridge and has been considering possible alternatives for other meetings tonight or tomorrow. President Bush has been in contact with officials in Washington. All communications aboard Belknap are working. The President has received an update on the situation in the Philippines and has discussed other international issues.

I am offering an exclusive Presidential interview to any reporter who can get to Belknap in the next 15 minutes. Any reporter who swims will be granted three interviews.

Due to the high winds and heavy seas, the Soviet delegation will not be coming to Belknap for dinner, nor will the U.S. delegation go to the Gorky. Therefore, the dinner and afternoon meeting were canceled. The President and the U.S. delegation will remain on Belknap for the night. We expect Sunday's schedule to be maintained as originally planned. I will brief tomorrow morning at a time to be arranged with the Soviets.

We are disappointed that the Soviet delegation was unable to join us for dinner on Belknap due to the storm. We look forward to tomorrow's meetings. We also regret that we were unable to visit the Slava for this afternoon's meeting. We feel this has been a very productive day in terms of the 5-hour meeting this morning. The 60 mile-per-hour winds preclude any movements off the ship this evening, but they have made for a very exciting afternoon sail.

Note: Four statements were issued during the day by Press Secretary Fitzwater. In the statements, he referred to John H. Sununu, Chief of Staff to the President; Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Robert D. Blackwill, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Aleksandr N. Yakovlev, Secretary and Chairman of the International Policy Commission of the Soviet Central Committee; Aleksandr A. Bessmertnykh, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs; Anatoliy S. Chernyayev, foreign policy adviser; Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, foreign policy adviser; Sergey F. Akhromeyev, principal military adviser to Chairman Gorbachev; and Gennadiy Gerasimov, Chief of the Information Department of the Foreign Ministry.

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