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From the Archives: 1987 treaty marked new era between the US and Russia

Thirty-five years ago, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev — who died earlier this year — met in Washington D.C. and signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The INF treaty eliminated ground-launched medium- and short-range missiles that threatened Europe. It marked a turning point in the Cold War— the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals. By 1991 the two countries had destroyed a total of 2,692 missiles.

In recent years, evidence shows that Russia has developed, tested and deployed a new intermediate-range missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads. In 2019, the United States withdrew from the INF treaty, citing Russian non-compliance with treaty obligations.

From The San Diego Union, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 1987:

Reagan, Gorbachev sign treaty

‘We have made history,’ exults President at summit ceremony

By George E. Condon Jr., Copley News Service

President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ending a decade of superpower confrontation over intermediate-range missiles with a firm handshake, yesterday signed a treaty to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons.

They then went to work on the next step toward their stated dream of a world without nuclear weapons.

“We have made history,” exulted the President after he and Gorbachev affixed their signatures eight times each to the various parts of a treaty that would reduce the world’s nuclear stockpiles by 4 percent.

The White House ceremony, televised live to the Soviet Union and the rest of the world, was the final chapter in a superpower showdown precipitated by Soviet deployment of missiles threatening American allies in 1977.

But it was just the first chapter of a Reagan-Gorbachev summit remarkable thus far for its cordiality. The two leaders began the day described by Mr. Reagan as “adversaries,” but they quickly agreed to drop formalities and begin a “Ron and Mikhail” first-name relationship.

The signing was the centerpiece of Gorbachev’s first visit to the White House on a day that began with an elaborate welcoming ceremony and a 21-gun salute.

Before the day was over, the two leaders would spend almost 2 1/2 hours in formal discussion and almost another four hours together in ceremonies and a State Dinner.

“By the end of the day, both sides felt that a foundation had been laid for substantive progress on specific issues,” said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, reflecting the upbeat mood that marked the opening sessions of the three-day summit.

That tone was best reflected in a private exchange between the two leaders, according to a senior American official.

“My first name is Ron; I’d like you to call me that,” said Mr. Reagan as the two men posed for an official photograph in front of a roaring fire and under a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

“Gorbachev said, ‘My name is Mikhail,’ ” said the U.S. official, who said Mr. Reagan suggested use of first names would be appropriate in “private work sessions.”

The two men held one of those sessions in the morning, and added several top aides at an afternoon meeting that Fitzwater described as “very lively.”

Mr. Reagan, he said, was “forceful,” and Gorbachev “animated” in their Oval Office talks.

While both sides held out hope that those private talks will yield progress, the focus was clearly on the more public signing ceremony that occurred in the East Room.

“We’ve made this impossible vision a reality,” Mr. Reagan said before sitting down to sign the intermediate-nuclear range forces (INF) treaty.

“This treaty protects the interests of America’s friends and allies,” he told an audience of several hundred persons, including several key members of the Senate which now must ratify the pact.

Gorbachev said the treaty “offers a big chance at last to get on the road leading away from that of catastrophe.”

Calling for a world without nuclear weapons, Gorbachev added, “We can be proud of planting this sapling which may one day grow into a mighty tree of peace.”

After signing the treaty on a table previously used for peace agreements ending the Spanish-American War and normalizing relations between Egypt and Israel, the two leaders walked — without interpreters — on a red carpet down a White House hallway to the State Dining Room where a live, worldwide television hookup awaited.

There, aiming their remarks at a global audience that included huge outdoor screens constructed in Moscow, the two men turned their attention to the task now confronting them — negotiating deep cuts in the superpower stockpiles of the more destructive, strategic missiles both now command.

Mr. Reagan predicted that “with time, patience, and willpower,” a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) could be reached.

Gorbachev agreed, calling a treaty “within reach.” But he used his brief television address to also raise the issues that currently block progress on START — the current disagreement on interpretation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, and Soviet opposition to Mr. Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also known as “Star Wars.”

Pointedly, Gorbachev said people want to see American and Soviet spacecraft cooperating for peace, “not for Star Wars.”

But officials said there was little mention of SDI in private sessions in the Oval Office, predicting that will come in later meetings after a “working group” on arms control reports to the leaders.

The arms control team was one of two working groups formed at the behest of the leaders, consisting of lower-level experts under instructions to narrow differences. The second group was given responsibility for human rights, regional and bilateral issues that divide the two superpowers.

Spokesmen for both governments continued to speak hopefully of significant agreements here. But, with the Washington summit still in its infancy, there were no signs of the kind of behind-the-scenes blockbuster proposal that Gorbachev sprung on Mr. Reagan at last year’s Reykjavik summit.

Coming to Washington, the Soviets had hinted that Gorbachev may be bringing some “surprises” concerning either the START talks or a possible withdrawal of Soviet troops in their eighth year of occupation in Afghanistan.

But Gorbachev downplayed that notion before the door to the Oval Office closed for the first session to begin.

“I don’t think that policies are made with surprises,” Gorbachev told reporters in the Oval Office. “Responsible policies … have to be well thought over.”

Even at that early juncture, Gorbachev was striking notes of optimism, expressing pleasure that the President had met the Soviet leader’s first challenge.

Gorbachev had issued that challenge on Monday only minutes after landing at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland, when he said he hoped to hear “new words” from Mr. Reagan during the summit.

Sitting in the Oval Office, Gorbachev said, “I have heard some new words … and I welcome this fact.”

Gorbachev said he heard those words in the President’s address during an elaborate welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House.

With troops from all branches of the U.S. armed forces — including a fife and drum corps — arrayed before the two leaders, Mr. Reagan noted pointedly that the summit was a meeting “not of allies, but of adversaries.”

But Mr. Reagan added that “the world is watching and we’ve got something to show them” this week concerning START.

Gorbachev, looking out at a scene that included the national Christmas tree, the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument, pledged to work with the President “to undo the logic of the arms race” and to fight for “common sense.”

He called this summit “the first step down the road leading to a nuclear- free world whose construction you, Mr. President, and I, discussed at Reykjavik.

In their first meeting, the two leaders reviewed U.S.-Soviet relations for 82 minutes — 47 minutes of which were without other senior aides. Mr. Reagan and Gorbachev were alone for that time except for two interpreters and notetakers.

They met again in the afternoon for 60 minutes, said Fitzwater.

Gennady Gerasimov, a spokesman for the Soviet Foreign Ministry, said, “The Soviet side is satisfied with the businesslike beginning of this summit.”

But Gerasimov was reluctant to discuss either the mood of the sessions or the personal chemistry between the two leaders, saying, “It is too early for chemical analysis.”

By the end of the day, U.S. officials were far more eager to offer such analyses, however.

“They got along very well,” said a senior U.S. official, calling particular attention to the lighthearted way that Gorbachev interrupted Mr. Reagan when the President cited a Russian saying in his remarks before signing the treaty.

When the President said, as he has on many occasions in recent years, “doveryai, no proveryai — trust, but verify,” Gorbachev said to laughter, “You repeat that at every meeting.”

The U.S. official said, “I think the rapport that you saw … was a pretty good indication of how they get along in private.”

Noting this is the third Reagan-Gorbachev summit, he said, “They have reached that point now … where they are able to make pretty strong points to each other, but do it in a friendly fashion.

“They know each other’s personalities now, and know where they’re coming from. They know whether they’re really angry, or if they’re just trying to really be forceful. So it is a pretty good debating relationship.”

That relationship was demonstrated again at the State Dinner where the two men toasted each other with apparent warmth.

The leaders — the President in the customary black tie, the Communist Party chief in a more austere business suit — pledged to “work together” for world peace as they clinked glasses filled with Iron Horse Brut Summit Cuvee 1984 from California.

Others attending the State Dinner, including the top leadership of Congress, were equally bubbly in their early assessments of the summit’s first day.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., praised the INF signing. But he said the Senate will wait to see all the documents, saying, “We’ll just take it one day at a time.”

House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, called the summit “a magnificent success” that is “clearly in our national interest.”

Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., a key figure in any ratification fight, remained uncommitted on the INF pact, saying, “We still have another phase to go through — the Senate phase.”

Other Republican senators were more negative about the treaty’s prospects, with Sen. Malcolm Wallop, R-Wyo., saying, “I don’t know why people are supporting it when they still haven’t seen it.”

In addition to his White House schedule, Gorbachev also met at the Embassy with American and Soviet authors, actors and other intellectuals.

The group included former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, author Norman Mailer, astronomer Carl Sagan, economist John Kenneth Galbraith, actor Paul Newman, singer John Denver, artist Yoko Ono, evangelist Billy Graham, and former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

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