REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev went to the summit looking for movement in arms control, but an elemental clash over 'Star Wars' derailed a sweeping plan to sharply carve nuclear arsenals and any plans for a summit meeting in Washington.
After stretching out the talks during their two-day rendezvous in Reykjavik to double its intended length so their negotiators could construct a package covering all the bones of contention, it came down to whether the two men could make the pieces fit.
In the end, they couldn't, and they left the talks at Hofdi House on Faxa Bay with a handshake Sunday and a lot of private paper work, but nothing to present to the people back home.
Senior U.S. officials said that negotiators, who worked through the night Saturday, had reached agreements in principal covering a 50 percent cut in strategic weapons over five years, a sharp reduction in intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, and a basic accord on limiting nuclear testing.
But the final toss was up to Reagan and Gorbachev, and Soviet insistence on limiting the Strategic Defense Initiative, a research program for a land- and space-based anti-missile system, to only laboratory work for 10 years would not fit for the president.
Gorbachev countered that there be no package at all -- indeed no statement on any areas of agreement -- if SDI were not included, and hopes for an announcement of progress on arms control, human rights and bilateral and regional issues blew away in the biting North Atlantic wind.
Explaining his stand to a farewell crowd at the U.S. air base at Keflavik, near the Icelandic capital, Reagan said the Soviets wanted to deny the United States the benefits of SDI for 10 years, and he declared: 'This we could not -- and will not -- do.'
Referring to the Soviet stand, a senior U.S. official said, 'That was just a deal-buster from the start.'
'The Soviet Union's objective was to kill off the SDI program. The president simply had to refuse to compromise,' Secretary of State George Shultz said.
Shultz said that at one juncture in the talks Reagan spoke a Russian phrase to Gorbachev -- 'Doveryay no proveryay,' which loosely translated means 'trust but verify.' Shultz offered his own translation: 'In God we trust -- all others cash.'
The Iceland summit was unusual from the start. Proposed by Gorbachev less than a month ago, it was to be informal, face-to-face, without pomp -- held in the quiet capital of a remote island above the Arctic Circle where sheep outnumber people 3-to-1.
Reagan agreed and said he hoped it could lead to an agreement on a date for a full-scale summit in Washington. They couldn't agree on that either.
'I don't see any prospect of it,' Shultz said of a Washington summit, speaking Sunday night after Reagan had headed to the airport and Gorbachev began a news conference in which he called Reagan's position on 'Star Wars' a proposal only a mad man would accept.
The post mortems on both sides reflected a curious mix of acrimony and optimism. 'The Soviets are the ones refusing this deal,' White House chief of staff Donald Regan said. 'It shows them up for what they are.'
The president said, 'Although we put on the table the most far-reaching arms control proposal in history, the general secretary rejected it.'
But he said the talks had 'made great strides in resolving most of our differences and we're going to continue our efforts.'
Echoing that assessment, Gorbachev said the 11 hours of talks had yielded 'substantial gains,' and said, 'We have reached agreement on a great deal of things.'
The Jekyll-and-Hyde aftermath of the collapse of the talks occurred in an atmosphere of intense anticipation, fed in part by a news 'blackout' that held up until early Sunday when word of progress leaked from both sides.
U.S. officials said that failure to announce agreements in Reykjavik did not mean all was lost, and they noted Soviet negotiators in Geneva, where talks are underway on strategic, intermediate and space weapons, would be hard-pressed to deny the positions offered in Iceland.
Indeed, Gorbachev said, 'We are waiting. We have not withdrawn the proposals we have put forward.'
But the bottom line for Reagan was that he could not sacrifice his commitment to 'Star Wars' -- what he calls a weapon that kills weapons, not people, and a protective shield for freedom -- for the personal or political gain of an agreement on arms, even one a top U.S. official called 'the most appealing arms package' ever seriously considered by the superpowers.
All told, the summit talks roughly doubled the six hours of talks initially planned. Sunday's two sessions totaled 7 hours, including an unexpected afternoon meeting that lasted until after dark.
When it was over, Reagan and Gorbachev left Hofdi House for the last time, and went to the president's limousine, chatting briefly before shaking hands conclusively.
Gorbachev nodded and smiled a bit as he grasped Reagan's right hand, and the president also bobbed his head, then looked at the ground with a shrug before climbing into his car.