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MALTA SUMMIT PARTICIPANTS MAKE SYMBOLIC BEGINNING

SHARE MALTA SUMMIT PARTICIPANTS MAKE SYMBOLIC BEGINNING

In spite of raging winds and waves in Malta during the historic Bush-Gorbachev summit over the weekend, the other symbols for future cooperation between the world's two super-powers were very positive.

That is, after all, what a summit is all about. Symbolically, it brings leaders together to make a beginning. To his credit, President Bush was characteristically optimistic. "Don't tell me that that little chop was risking anything," said the President in response to a reporter's inferrence that he may have jeopardized the summit by traveling on a small boat during stormy Mediterranean weather. "Actually, I haven't had that much fun in a long time."Indeed, whether in the water or seated next to the Soviet leader, he seemed in his element. While acknowledging that their meeting was "not all sweetness and light," Bush told a press conference that Gorbachev "got my measure and I got his."

The president called the recent changes in Eastern Europe "nothing less than a peaceful revolution." Then he suggested the need to "provide the architecture" to complete the process, which would depend, he said, on the "strength and solidarity of the trans-Atlantic parnership."

In his most dramatic assertion, Bush said, "We stand on the threshold of a new era, and we know that we are contributing to a process of history, driven by the peoples determined to be free."

For his part, Gorbachev said that the two leaders had agreed "that the characteristics of the Cold War should be abandoned."

But when pressed on whether the Cold War is in fact over, the typically cautious Bush said, "If I signal to you there's no Cold War, then you'll say `So what are you doing with troops in Europe?' "

As prudent as Bush's comments were, he and Gorbchev sat side-by-side on a Soviet ship, often gesturing to each other and sometimes touching a hand or an elbow. They seemed comfortable and presented a symbol of unity unmatched since World War II. It was a far cry from the tense U.S.-Soviet relations of the last four decades.

Yet they signed no agreements and made no surprise announcements. Speaking with miniature U.S. and Soviet flags at their sides, they said that they had pursued ways to work together on all aspects of their relations - economic, political, and military.

They pledged to work for a strategic arms accord and a treaty to cut conventional forces in Europe in 1990, an agreement Gorbachev wanted by the June summit.

Bush praised Gorbachev for his advocacy of "peaceful change in Europe," while the Soviet leader reaffirmed his support for European self-determination.

They recognized also their disagreements, especially over Central America and reductions in naval power. Despite their differences, Bush said, "you get the feeling he really wants to work with us."

It seems evident that the two leaders have a healthy respect and increased understanding for each other that may increase the liklihood of putting the Cold War to rest.

The symbolism is encouraging, but Bush's cautious approach seems in order. Now the real challenge ahead for both leaders is to bring the two countries beyond the threshold into a new, exciting era.