Geneva — There was no table-pounding at the superpower summit meeting. ``This is not going to happen today, or tomorrow, or in the future,'' said Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after holding another t^ete-`a-t^ete with President Ronald Reagan here yesterday morning.
The challenge now is to ensure that this hopeful prediction becomes a reality. The portent and value of the summit meeting will emerge only in the weeks and months ahead.
But two days of summitry, during which the President and Mr. Gorbachev met privately for almost five hours, holds out the promise of a renewed momentum in Soviet-American relations.
On the second day of the summit, the two leaders joked and smiled in front of photographers, met together in private with only their interpreters, and held plenary meetings described as cordial, serious, and worthwhile.
President Reagan said that of course Mr. Gorbachev should come to the United States (plans are reportedly already under way for a second summit meeting) and he also sounded a hopeful note for the future.
``There is much that divides us, but I believe the world breathes easier because we are here talking together,'' he told journalists during a photo session.
Even as American and Soviet officials maintained the news blackout on the summit proceedings, they took pains to convey that a positive atmosphere prevailed at the meetings and that the talks were candid and businesslike.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said the American side remained hopeful that ``this is a start of a process toward better understanding and a better relationship'' between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The extensive private meetings, said the White House, could only mean that the two communicated well, outlined their views to each other, and felt comfortable discussing them. Reporters were left puzzling how the two would later remember and record what they had said. But White House aides said this posed no problem.
In their one-on-one meetings the President addressed Mr. Gorbachev as ``General Secretary,'' while the Soviet leader called Mr. Reagan ``Mr. President.''
The last hours of discussions between the Soviet and American delegations were dominated by the issue of how to release the results of the summit. Mr. Gorbachev scheduled a press conference today at the Soviet mission for a select group of journalists. But it was not known at this writing whether the two leaders would meet again today or whether substantive agreements were reached.
The President leaves Geneva today for Brussels, where he will brief NATO heads of government on the outcome of the discussions here. Then, after a transatlantic flight, he will go directly to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of Congress that will be televised nationwide.
The United States also plans an ambitious effort to inform other countries -- including Moscow's East-bloc allies -- of the results of the summit.
A team of American diplomats will fan out from Geneva prepared to relay the outcome of the meeting here.
One diplomat heading for an Eastern European country said he ``hopes'' to have some good news to tell.
There are also persistent reports that Gorbachev may address his Warsaw Pact allies at a specially called meeting in Prague. But Kremlin spokesman Leonid M. Zamyatin said that Mr. Gorbachev plans to return from Geneva only ``to the place from where he came'' -- Moscow.
Next week he will have the opportunity to address the Soviet Union's parliament -- the Supreme Soviet -- about his meetings with President Reagan.
More important, he could -- if he chose -- convene a meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee for a briefing on what occurred at Geneva.
But the Soviet people have been given running coverage of the events here. The official Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, had two pictures from the summit displayed prominently on the front page. One was a group photograph, showing both delegations sitting on opposite sides of the table.
The other showed a relaxed Gorbachev and Reagan sitting and chatting. Large headlines in the center of the page heralded the meeting between ``M. S. Gorbachev and R. Reagan'' -- a headline some Soviets never expected to see.
But Kremlin spokesman Zamyatin said that the mere fact that the meeting took place is a positive development. ``It is the beginning of a process,'' said Mr. Zamyatin. And both sides say they want that process to continue.
Even the leaders' spouses seemed to hit it off well. While General Secretary Gorbachev and the President huddled at the Soviet mission yesterday, their wives met for the second time. Mrs. Gorbachev hosted a tea for Mrs. Reagan, reciprocating the First Lady's tea the day before.
The Soviet leader's wife greeted Mrs. Reagan on the porch of the mission and the two women held hands to pose for photographers. ``I think she was a very nice lady,'' Mrs. Reagan commented after the first get-together.
At the Soviet mission Mrs. Reagan was asked if she agreed with White House chief of staff Donald Regan's comment to the Washington Post that women don't understand weighty issues like arms control and human rights and whether women understand substantive issues. Mrs. Reagan, leveling her gaze with a serious look, replied, ``I'm sure they do.''
This has been an unusual summit in that, unlike some previous summit meetings -- in 1972, for instance -- the signficance lies not in ratifying agreements already reached. Instead, both sides are trying to get relations, which have been strained for a number of years now, back on track.
Even if no broad agreement has been worked out on the central issue of arms control, the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting will be viewed by many as worthwhile if it leads to a better atmosphere for hammering out a concrete accord and to improved ties in other areas as well.
One set of documents ready for the leaders' signatures cover new exchange agreements providing for visits between the two countries by a wide variety of Soviet and American citizens, ranging from athletes and performing artists to government officials. The previous agreement lapsed in 1979 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The new agreements, American officials say, will virtually double the numbers of people involved in certain kinds of exchanges.
Diplomatic observers also caution against trying to assess the summit in terms of winners or losers. The drama of the moment tends to dominate the headlines and produce facile evaluations. These often prove wrong in the end. Summits that have seemed successful at the time have led to disastrous results, as happened after the Kennedy-Khrushchev meeting in June 1961.
The hope among many Americans and Europeans -- East and West -- is that the summit will provide new direction for the Reagan foreign policy, moving it firmly back to center from the far right.
Staff writer Gary Thatcher also contributed to this report.