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SUMMIT’S SMILES CONTRAST WITH STORM’S SHRIEKS

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For 48 hours, the superpowers transformed the castle-studded island of Malta into the besieged center of world attention. All the fuss, according to participants, was the end of the Cold War.

From the moment charismatic Mikhail Gorba-chev and cautious George Bush arrived on the wind-swept medieval Mediterranean archipelago, their every move was meticulously charted by hordes of news-hungry reporters.As storms raged outside, the two presidents, meeting for their first summit, warmed to each other and produced the level of empathy a Europe in turmoil had only hoped for.

"(The summit was) a major step toward understanding and toward trying to tear down any remaining barriers that shot up because of the Cold War," Bush said. "There's no question that the conditions today are far different than at the depths of the Cold War."

At a joint news conference at the end of their two-day summit, a smiling Gorbachev agreed that the world was abandoning a period of confrontation that has dominated East-West relations since World War II.

"The world leaves one epoch of Cold War and enters another epoch," Gorbachev said. "This is just the beginning. We're just at the very beginning of our road. A long road to a long-lasting, peaceful period."

Soviet and American officials had painstakingly planned the details of the historic encounter for more than a month. But their plans were thrown into disarray when a fierce storm interrupted communications and transportation just five hours after their talks began on Saturday in the normally sun-drenched Marsaxlokk Bay.

Winds gusting up to 60 mph battered the American and Soviet guided missile cruisers USS Bel-knap and Slava anchored within 300 yards of each other. The winds bounced the vessels like tops.

The two leaders had traveled thousands of miles to meet each other, but for a time it seemed the elements were conspiring to prevent them from bridging the final stretch of stormy water between the two gray warships. The stormy seas forced cancellation of one meeting between the two leaders and a dinner that was to have been hosted by Bush.

By Sunday morning, however, the violent storm had died down and Bush said he was "energized" by the night the Belknap's captain said had been the stormiest he had seen in port in 24 years.