CALL it the Summit of Storms. While winds both natural and political swirled around President George Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev this weekend, the two men tried hard to calmly make progress on everything from nuclear arms control to superpower economic ties.
``We did gain a deeper understanding of each other's views,'' said Bush in a post-summit joint news conference. ``We set the stage for progress across a broad range of issues.''
With Gorbachev sitting at his side, Bush told reporters: ``Now with reform under way in the Soviet Union, we stand at the threshold of a brand new era in US-Soviet relations.''
Gorbachev, echoing Bush's words said: ``I share the view of President Bush that we are satisfied in general with the results of the meeting.... This exchange of views was very significant.''
The two leaders committed themselves to resolve issues that have prevented them from reaching agreements to cut strategic arms, limit nuclear weapons tests and implementing a global ban on chemical weapons.
But the natural setting of the bay reflected the world situation the two leaders find themselves in. Both were based on warships, sleek and gray, that looked out of place next to Malta's treeless hills.
The two men ended up meeting on the ocean liner Maxim Gorky, a tubby and tearful ship which somehow better reflected the improving state of superpower relations.
As expected, the Soviets pushed the concept of naval arms control. Said Gorbachev: ``We need to start by getting rid of these ships which we can't board in bad weather.''
The US has long resisted Soviet calls for naval arms control. With its long coasts and far-flung interests, the US would be put at a disadvantage by naval limits, according to US officials.
But both sides are interested in nuclear arms control. At the summit progress was made towards a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Bush proposed that Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Secretary of State James Baker III meet in January to discuss START details, among other things. Perhaps a treaty would be ready for signing at the next full-blown leaders' summit, which Bush proposed be held in the US in late June.
Bush suggested signing a treaty providing a 30 percent to 50 percent cut in long-range nuclear arms by the June summit, and signing an accord on reducing US and Soviet ground forces in Europe at a NATO-Warsaw Pact meeting in Vienna next year.
US-Soviet talks usually focus on arms control. But with warming relations has come an increased emphasis on economics. Bush has said his goal is to help integrate the Soviet economy into the world economy. One Bush proposal was that the USSR be given observer status at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
As the UN of world trade, GATT is an institution that the Soviets have long tried to join. But some observer members have had to wait 10 years or more to become voting members.
One thing the Soviets would much like from the US is a abandonment of the Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions. This US law prohibits improved trade relations between unless the Soviets allows freer emigration.
The Soviets say they will soon codify new emigration laws. While Jackson-Vanik was not killed here in Malta, it also might be a subject for next year's full summit. ``It is time for Jackson-Vanik to go,'' says a Soviet official.
As the two men met on the cozy Gorky, both were buffeted by political winds from separate regions around the world.
Gorbachev presents the image of a confident man even as Eastern Europe flees from communism. Even as he traveled to Malta, East Germany's abandonment of the leading role for its communist party, and Czechoslovkia attempt to investigate the 1968 Soviet invasion must have come as sharp gusts.
Eastern Europe was discussed at length by Bush and Gorbachev. But it is an area in which there are few specific agreements the two nations can come to.
US officials say they believe the Soviets have basically written Eastern Europe off. Soviet officials say that is not exactly the case. ``Some say the communist system is disintegrating,'' says a Soviet official. ``We look upon that process as a normal process.''
Bush expressed his support for Gorbachev's Perestroika (restructuring) meanwhile he was buffeted by his own political winds in the Philippines.
Soviet officials juxtaposed the American recent use of military power in the Philippines against Soviet disengagement from Eastern Europe by Soviet officials. ``Any interference is destructive,'' said a Soviet official.
There remain clear differences on Central America where Bush questioned Gorbachev on Moscow's role. Gorbachev denied knowing how Soviet arms have ended up in the hands of left-wing guerrillas in El Salvador and Nicaragua's Sandinista government.
Unlike her husband and President Bush, Raisa Gorbachev roamed freely about the island of Malta during the summit weekend. Visiting a Roman Catholic church in the capital city of Valletta, she was briefly trapped by a crowd of well wishers.
As her entourage roared away a demonstrator in multicolored clothing waved at the passing parade. His sign said: ``Give Peace a Chance'' in Russian.