THE results of the one-day superpower summit have given Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev some badly needed breathing room as he focuses on dire domestic problems. Following the Sunday summit in Helsinki, which concentrated on the Gulf crisis, President Bush said the Soviet Union will play a big role in the future of the Middle East and pledged closer economic cooperation with Moscow.
Mr. Gorbachev had to give relatively little in return. A joint statement said the superpowers would seek a peaceful solution to the crisis, adding that if current United Nations sanctions did not get Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, they would consider further measures ``consistent with the UN charter.''
Since the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion, Soviet diplomats have been calling for a political settlement achieved through the UN.
Most of all, the promise of US aid should give Gorbachev more flexibility as he turns his attention to the Soviet internal situation. He rushed back to Moscow after the summit to prepare a presentation of an economic reform program to parliament, which began its fall session Monday.
The Soviet Union is in its most critical state since Gorbachev launched perestroika (restructuring) five years ago. Shortages of basic foodstuffs, like bread, are growing worse by the day, placing the nation on the brink of disaster. The decisions taken by the parliament will be crucial.
Though Gorbachev has indicated he prefers a rapid transition to a market system to save the economy from collapse, many government officials, especially Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, are urging a go-slow approach. Those advocating caution say a rapid shift could bring chaos by causing massive unemployment.
``This pledge [of US economic cooperation] from Bush will certainly help'' Gorbachev, an unidentified Soviet official told the Reuters news agency.
Mr. Bush said the United States is not prepared to write a hefty check to finance the Soviet transition to a market.
``We've got some big problems ourselves in our economy,'' Bush said. ``Having said that, there are many ways that we can endeavor to be of assistance to the emerging economy in the Soviet Union.''
Several US-Soviet trade deals already are moving forward.
A joint effort to produce a civilian airliner capable of competing on the world market was mentioned by Gorbachev in a television interview. The US Department of Agriculture also has been working on a multibillion-dollar farm-aid package for the Soviets.
It appears Bush is also willing to supply the Soviets with much-needed Western technology to help the country's sagging oil industry. Official statistics indicate Soviet oil production is dropping.
Such projects are likely to be discussed during Secretary of State James Baker III's visit to the Soviet Union this week. Mr. Baker, along with Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher and 15 top US industrialists, are scheduled to visit Moscow and Leningrad before leaving Thursday.
Meanwhile, Gorbachev's success at Helsinki takes away a foreign policy issue that conservatives could have used to hurt him at home. Heading into the summit, hard-liners in the party and the military were putting pressure on Gorbachev, saying the United States wanted to establish a permanent base in the Gulf that would threaten the Soviet Union. To allay conservative worries, Gorbachev received a pledge on a US withdrawal from the region.
``I made very clear to President Gorbachev ... that we have no intention of keeping them [troops in the Gulf] a day longer than is required,'' Bush said.
More important diplomatically, Bush clearly indicated the US would welcome Soviet participation in the effort to establish a lasting peace in the Middle East. Keeping the Soviets out of the regional peace process had long been an American policy aim.
``I believe that both countries have shown a high degree of responsibility for the fates of their own peoples and the world,'' Gorbachev said in the television interview Sunday. ``This harbors a promise that we will come up with new forms of cooperation and a high degree of trust.''
The emerging new relationship between the superpowers will further help the Soviets by reducing defense expenditures.
But war in the Gulf still threatens to unravel all that Gorbachev has fought for so far. The joint statement issued after the summit left room for the United States to use force against Iraq if all peaceful methods were exhausted. ``I would like to express the hope that [Iraqi] President Saddam Hussein will act soberly, take careful evaluation, and respond to the calls and demands of the world community,'' Gorbachev said.