WASHINGTON -- President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed a historic treaty today that for the first time in the atomic age would eliminate all intermediate-range nuclear missiles.
Entering the elegant East Room of the White House side by side, the two leaders approached the podium to applause from the huge audience of U.S. and Soviet officials. Reagan, speaking first, told the witnesses that the treaty and the signing ceremony "are both excellent examples of the rewards of patience."
Gorbachev said, "We can be proud to plant this sapling, which someday may grow to be a full tree of peace," and then quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: "'The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.'"
"So let us reward ourselves by getting down to business," the Soviet leader said. "We have covered a seven years' long road ... one last step toward this table and the treaty will be signed.
"May Dec. 8, 1987, be a date that will be inscribed in the history books," he said.
The two leaders were applauded upon entering the East Room. After their remarks, they sat at Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet table on a raised platform flanked by the flags of the two nations. There, at 2:04 p.m. EST, Reagan and Gorbachev put their names on the accord, bound in two huge volumes in hand-tooled leather covers.
The president noted he first offered the "zero-option" of eliminating a class of nuclear weapons six years ago and, "It was a simple proposal -- one could say disarmingly simple," he quipped.
But now, he added, "For the first time in history, the language of arms control is replaced by arms reduction."
Reagan then reiterated his personal arms control maxim, saying in Russian and in English: "Doverai no proverai" -- "Trust but verify."
"You repeat that at every meeting," Gorbachev replied in Russian. When his answer was translated into English, laughter filled the room. "I like it," Reagan replied.
If the Senate ratifies the treaty, the superpowers will have three years to scrap about 2,000 missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,000 miles.
The treaty signing came on the first day of the third superpower summit in 25 months. The pact is the product of six years of negotiations that included an intense last-minute push on both sides this autumn toward completion.
The ceremony, aired live in the United States and the Soviet Union, followed the first one-on-one summit meeting in the Oval Office. A short time later, the leaders addressed their nations about the treaty.
Among those in the audience were Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and former Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin.
Earlier in the day, the conservative president, 76, greeted the reform-minded communist, 56, with a handshake at the official White House welcome. Then, joined only by interpreters and note-takers, the leaders went into the Oval Office for their first one-on-one meeting of the summit, which lasts until Thursday.
Aside from the treaty signing, of key importance at this week's summit are Reagan-Gorbachev talks on proposals to cut by 50 percent the superpower arsenals of long-range strategic missiles and on Reagan's cherished Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as "Star Wars."
Other topics for the five summit sessions will be human rights, especially Soviet emigration policy, and superpower interests in world troublespots such as Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.
The just signed treaty, the first superpower arms accord to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons, provides for unprecedented reciprocal on-site inspections at missile factories to make sure neither side cheats.
Under the agreement, all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges of 300 to 3,000 miles would be destroyed or dismantled over three years. That means about 2,500 missiles and 3,500 warheads destined for the scrap heap, assuming Reagan wins ratification. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled the first hearings for Jan. 19.
After the initial session, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that during their first "congenial" meeting, Reagan and Gorbachev ordered that two groups of advisers meet separately -- one to discuss arms control, the other to talk about human rights, world troublespots and bilateral issues.
The arms control group will be led by veteran arms negotiator Paul Nitze on the U.S. side and Marshal Sergie Akharomeyev, chief of the Soviet general staff. The group on human rights, regional conflict and bilateral exchanges will be led by Assistant Secretary of State Rozanne Ridgway on the U.S. side and Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Bessmertnyk.
The first meeting, Fitzwater said, was devoted mainly to setting the agenda for the next three days. Reagan also gave Gorbachev a set of gold cufflinks depicting the prophet Isaiah breaking swords into plowshares, in keeping with the conciliatory public remarks made by both leaders.
"They are generally in agreement on the issues to be discussed and they both have outgoing personalities of a kind that makes this a very congenial kind of session," Fitzwater said. "I know that the president after this first session thought he had a very good discussion with the general secretary, that it was productive, honest, with no blemishes attached and I think they felt very good about this first meeting."
"The Soviet side is satisfied with the businesslike beginning of these meetings," said Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov, appearing with Fitzwater for a joint news briefing.
Just before they began the Oval Office session, Reagan and Gorbachev faced photographers and reporters with smiles and banter.
Asked if he would be satisfied only with the about-to-be-signed treaty or would press for progress on strategic arms, Reagan said, "We want to make progress. I think both of us made that clear."
Asked if he carried any surprises with him from Moscow, Gorbachev noted, "I don't think that policies are made with surprises. Responsible policies, particularly by countries like the Soviet Union and the United States, have to be well thought over."
Pomp and circumstance greeted Gorbachev as he pulled up to the executive mansion in his armored Zil limousine. The general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party received a trumpet fanfare and the special honor of a 21-gun salute, usually reserved for heads of state. The national anthems of the Soviet Union and the United States were played as the guns resounded.
In his welcoming remarks, translated into Russian, Reagan said Gorbachev's 75 hours in Washington is "a visit more momentous than many that have preceded it because it marks the coming together not of allies but of adversaries. ...
"Today we will take a giant step in that direction by signing a historic treaty," he said. "The world is watching and we've got something to show them."
In his response, translated into English, Gorbachev said, "History has charged the governments of our countries and the two of us with a solemn duty to justify the hopes of Soviet and American people and people the world over to undo the logic of the arms race."
Gorbachev added, "Indeed, the very fact that we are about to sign a treaty ... shows that ... our two nations are capable of shouldering their high responsibilities."
However, the president is in the awkward position of defending the treaty to some members of his own party. Several arch-conservatives have criticized Reagan embracing a pact they fear is not tough enough with the government they blame for cheating on virtually all of seven previous nuclear arms accords.
In gross numbers, however, the Soviets would lose more missiles under the treaty -- about 2,000 to roughly 350 on the U.S. side. A key difference is that the U.S. missiles can reach the Soviet Union from bases in Western Europe, while most of the Soviet missiles are aimed at U.S. allies.
Earlier today, Senate Democratic leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia said he had read the 200-page treaty and, "I think prospects are good for ratification."
Byrd said he hoped to have the ratification process completed by mid-April, but, "That doesn't mean we're not going to carefully look at the treaty. There will be a thorough debate as there should be."
Gorbachev expressed hope that the two nations "will take their place in the history of the outgoing 20th century not only as allies in the battle against Nazism but also as nations that have paved the way to a safe world, free from the threat of nuclear annihilation."
Both leaders avoided mentioning the Strategic Defense Initiative, Reagan's program to develop a space shield against ballistic missiles that has blocked progress on a long-range missile treaty and has been a major irritant in relations.
But Gorbachev made an indirect reference when he said strategic arms should be reduced "in the context of a firm guarantee of strategic stability."
The welcoming ceremony, under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the upper 30s, featured color guards from each of the U.S. Armed Forces and a dramatic short parade by the colonial-garbed fife-and-drum corps of the Army's "Old Guard" 3rd Infantry. The two leaders, standing on a bunting-bedecked platform, chatted as the music sailed over the South Lawn.
The fife-and-drum corps ended its review by playing "Yankee Doodle."
Tonight, Gorbachev will be the guest of honor at a glittering White House state dinner.
The Soviet leader was accompanied by his wife, Raisa, who wore a brown Persian lamb coat. First lady Nancy Reagan, in mink, attended with her husband. Also greeting the Gorbachevs were Bush, Shultz and Adm. William Crowe, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who saluted the Soviet leader.
While their husbands conferred, Mrs. Reagan entertained Mrs. Gorbachev at a "very pleasant" reception that included hopeful talk of peace.
The first ladies -- whose relations have been a bit strained in past encounters -- went to the Green Room and met other guests for a chat over their choice of tea, coffee or orange juice and tiny pastries.