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I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time, and it probably looked very impressive on paper – but for all the ultimate success of the Bush-Gorbachev Summit off the island of Malta, this December 2nd in 1989, the weather upstaged the proceedings in a way that almost shelved the entire set of meetings.
Two warships anchored less than a half-mile off the coast of Malta – The Maxim Gorky and the USS Belknap; shuttling President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev back and forth for talks aimed at reducing the nuclear arsenal, reducing the tension and improving relations. The weather had different plans, and both ships were buffeted by rolling seas and gale-force winds, making the shuttle back and forth of the two leaders virtually impossible after the initial meeting. An evening meeting was canceled and threatening to cancel the rest if the storm didn’t let up.
When the weather finally did calm down long enough for the leaders to meet and discuss the issues – both sides chided each other for the “wimp factor” in not braving the chaotic seas. And least everybody laughed good-naturedly about it.
But the Malta summit was an important step – hot on the heels of sweeping changes going about in Eastern Europe, the time was ready to discuss just how far those changes were going to go, and perhaps it was time to reevaluate the long-running Cold War stance Moscow and Washington held for each other.
Though there was no “acknowledged” agenda for the meeting, both Bush and Gorbachev were armed with proposals and suggestions. Gorbachev wanted NATO to dissolve and Bush wanted The Warsaw Pact to dissolve. However, mindful of reactions back home, both proposals seemed to be too much to ask for, so Gorbachev put forth the idea of evolution; letting the Warsaw Pact and NATO alliances slowly become something else, less threatening to each side. It was a summit for tiny steps and not great leaps, or as Bush Press Secretary Marlon Fitzwater put it; “The two leaders worked in a spirit of forward-looking cooperation”. Weather was predicted to improve considerably during the next day.
There was other news going on, this December 2nd in 1989. Rumanian Gymnast Nadia Comåneci was heading to Florida from New York after being granted asylum in the U.S. Rumanian leader Nicolai Ceausescu conceded all was not rosy with the political situation in his country and called for “absolute order” to bolster his hardline Communist stance.
Scattered fighting in the Philippines and El Salvador on this day. In the Philippines it was putting down a coup attempt against Philippine President Corazon Acquino and in El Salvador it was in the poorer sections of San Salvador. The UN announced it was closing down its office in the Capitol and moving operations to Guatemala where it was at least safer.