Primary Sources

Talking Points on the Malta Meeting


President George H. W. Bush held his first summit with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev early in December 1989 onboard a Soviet cruise ship docked off the coast of Malta. Although US-Soviet relations had thawed during the second term of President Ronald Reagan as he and Gorbachev developed a personal rapport, signed the first treaty between the superpowers to reduce nuclear weapons arsenals, and moved forward on further arms negotiations, Bush’s presidency began with a “pause” in diplomacy with the Soviets as his administration formulated a new foreign policy that came to be characterized by the slogan “beyond containment,” one that sought to encourage a “significant shift in the Soviet Union” and that would allow “the integration of the Soviet Union into the community of nations.” At the Malta summit, Bush presented some twenty initiatives, including efforts to normalize trade and move forward on arms control agreements. Although the two did not see eye-to-eye on every issue—Bush refused Gorbachev’s request to begin talks on naval arms control; Gorbachev assured Bush that Nicaragua had denied they were supplying arms to Salvadoran rebels, while Bush insisted they were continuing to do so—at the conclusion of the talks, Gorbachev told Bush that the Soviet Union was “ready no longer to regard the United States as an adversary.” The following State Department memo summarizes the points discussed during the summit.


U.S. Department of State, "Malta Meeting Talking Points," 1990, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt


- President Bush held some eight hours of candid and useful discussions with Chairman Gorbachev during their two days on Malta.

- The President decided it was important--in advance of the formal summit in 1990--to sit down informally with Gorbachev and exchange views about the dramatic changes taking place, to give new political impetus to their relationship, and to review regional issues, bilateral relations and the pace of arms control. . . .

o The President also took the opportunity to reiterate his personal commitment to placing the U.S.-Soviet relationship on a more stable, durable and cooperative basis.

o A better U.S.-Soviet relationship is valuable on its own terms and as an instrument for positive change in the world in general.

- In the spirit of giving an impetus to the U.S.-Soviet relationship, the President proposed a number of ideas to Gorbachev.

o Many concerned economic and commercial relations as measure of U.S. support for Soviet efforts to restructure and develop their economy; others entailed setting priorities for arms control, including START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty], nuclear testing, CW [chemical warfare], CFE [conventional forces in Europe].

- Discussion on change in Eastern and Central Europe was truly remarkable: Gorbachev admitted candidly that democratic values the West has held dear for so long should set standard for all humanity.

o He focused repeatedly on importance of stability, but reiterated that Eastern Europeans need to find their own way forward. . . .

- On arms control, President succeeded in giving high-level push in key areas and set priorities of our negotiators to pursue in months ahead. . . .

o Although Gorbachev predictably raised naval arms control, President explained why we saw little prospect for it.

- On regional issues, President expressed our concern about the gap between Soviet rhetorical support for peaceful settlements and realities of Soviet conduct.

o The discussion was largely disappointing. . . .

o Nicaragua and Cuba remain the single most disruptive factor in U.S.-Soviet relations. The President asked that Moscow use its influence with Managua and Havana to curb their support for subversion. . . .

- The leaders discussed priorities for moving forward in the U.S.-Soviet relationship, with a view to next year's Summit in the United States. . . .

How to Cite this Source

U.S. Department of State, "Talking Points on the Malta Meeting," Making the History of 1989, Item #195, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

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