Bush and Gorbachev at Malta

Previously Secret Documents from Soviet and U.S. Files on the 1989 Meeting, 20 Years Later

Published on the National Security Archive NSA, by Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton, December 3, 2009 (the National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 298).

… The documents include the most complete transcript of the Malta summit ever published – excerpted from the forthcoming book, “Masterpieces of History”: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989 (edited by Svetlana Savranskaya, Thomas Blanton, and Vladislav Zubok for the Central European University Press). The transcript is a translation of the Soviet record from the Gorbachev Foundation, since the U.S. memcons remain, astonishingly, still classified at the George H.W. Bush Library in Texas. 

The posting also includes the transcript of Gorbachev’s historic meeting before Malta with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, featuring remarkable agreement on values and the “common European home,” including the Polish pontiff’s statement that “Europe should breathe with two lungs.” From the American side, the documents include the before-and-after National Security Council talking points prepared for Bush, the preparatory memos to Bush from Secretary of State James Baker and other top aides, intelligence briefings for Bush from the CIA and the State Department, and the Bush script and briefing book contents list for Malta itself – all obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents show profound misjudgments of Gorbachev on the American side, including the President’s assumption that the Soviet leader would press for the removal of U.S. troops from Europe, not realizing until talking to Gorbachev directly that, just as Gorbachev had already announced publicly on multiple occasions, he believed the U.S. presence along with the NATO alliance to be a stabilizing force in Europe, particularly against any danger of German revanchism … //

… After Malta, the Americans raced to catch up with the arms control opportunities on offer from Gorbachev.  NSC aide Condoleezza Rice wrote the preparatory memo for the NSC meeting on December 5, 1989, saying “The President has now committed himself to an ambitious arms control agenda before the June 1990 summit” and “the bureaucracy must not get in the way of the completion of the treaties” – yet the START deal would not be done until 1991 because of recalcitrance from Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and the U.S. Navy over on-site verification (the Soviets were willing to be more open than the American sailors) and cherished weapons like submarine-launched cruise missiles (in a classic contradiction between actual national security interest and the parochial interest of the military service involved, the U.S. had far more coastal metropolises that could be threatened with these weapons than the Soviet Union did). (full text, documents 1 to 13 and notes 1 to 7).

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