WASHINGTON (Dec. 8)
Human rights was at the top of the agenda as President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev began their three-day summit conference at the White House Tuesday.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said human rights and arms control were the two issues discussed during a nearly hour-long meeting between the two leaders and then at a longer session which included top Soviet and U.S. officials.
However, he stressed that the discussion was more of an “overview” of the issue, in which the two leaders expressed their opinions rather than dealing with specific concerns.
Reagan had mentioned human rights in welcoming Gorbachev at a ceremony Tuesday on the south lawn of the White House.
“On the table will be not only arms reduction, but also human rights issues about which the American people and their government are deeply committed,” the president said. “These are fundamental issues of political morality that touch on the most basic of human concerns.”
Gorbachev did not mention human rights specifically, but noted that in addition to arms control, “we are also looking to a most serious and frank dialogue on other issues of Soviet-American relations.”
Fitzwater said that two working groups were set up, one to discuss arms control and the other to consider the three other topics of the summit: human rights and regional and bilateral issues.
Fitzwater was not sure whether the working groups would make a public report. Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov, who shared the briefing with Fitzwater, said the usual practice is for the working groups to present brief summaries to the two leaders to use in their discussions.
While Reagan has promised to press for improvement in Soviet policy on Jewish emigration, as well as the treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union, it is not clear that even if the Soviets agreed to change, it would be publicly announced at the summit.
TALKS ON MIDEAST UNCERTAIN
Neither was it certain that the Arab-Israeli peace process would be among the regional issues to be discussed.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has proposed that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, including the United States and the Soviet Union, convene an international Mideast peace conference to lead to direct negotiations between the parties.
The Soviets did hint that they might hold a briefing on regional issues, although they did not say to reporters whether that would include the Mideast.
The highlight of Tuesday’s meeting between the leaders was the signing of the treaty to eliminate medium-and short-range nuclear missiles.
Fitzwater said that to mark the signing, Reagan gave Gorbachev a pair of solid-gold cuff links, similar to the ones he was wearing, depicting the prophet Isaiah beating a sword into a plowshare. He noted that this was the theme of Reagan’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in 1986.
In addition to the opening session, Gorbachev and Reagan met again in the afternoon and plan to hold two more meetings on Wednesday and a final session Thursday morning.
Reagan and his wife, Nancy, were set to host a state dinner for Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, at the White House Tuesday night, and the Gorbachevs will host a dinner at the Soviet Embassy Wednesday night.
Gorbachev is also scheduled to hold meetings with Vice President George Bush, key leaders of Congress, American intellectuals and business leaders.
Before leaving Washington Thursday night, Gorbachev will hold a news conference at the embassy. Reagan is scheduled to address the nation over television Thursday night.
Security here is the tightest ever for a foreign visitor. The entire block in front of the Soviet Embassy is barricaded by concrete barriers, with sharpshooters stationed on rooftops. The curb lane of the street in front of the Madison Hotel, where the rest of the Soviet officials are staying, is also blocked off.
Except for a few selected pool reporters, most of the nearly 7,000 journalists from around the world covering the summit can not see the two leaders except on television at the press headquarters in the J.W. Marriott Hotel, about six blocks from the White House.
Washington residents are talking about not only the traffic inconveniences caused by the security arrangements, but also the strange sight of seeing the Soviet red flag with its yellow hammer and sickle flying on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and draped on the Old Executive Office Building next door.