VALLETTA, Malta -- For 48 hours, the superpowers transformed the castle-studded island of Malta into the besieged center of world attention. All the fuss, according to participants, was the end of the Cold War.
From the moment charismatic Mikhail Gorbachev and cautious George Bush arrived on the wind-swept medieval Mediterranean archipelago, their every move was meticulously charted by hordes of news-hungry reporters.
As storms raged outside, the two presidents, meeting for their first summit, warmed to each other and produced the level of empathy a Europe in turmoil had only hoped for.
'(The summit was) a major step towards understanding and towards trying to tear down any remaining barriers that shot up because of the Cold War,' Bush said. 'There's no question that the conditions today are far different than at the depths of the Cold War.'
At a joint news conference at the end of their two-day summit, a smiling Gorbachev agreed that the world was abandoning a period of confrontation that has dominated East-West relations since World War II.
'The world leaves one epoch of Cold War and enters another epoch,' Gorbachev said. 'This is just the beginning. We're just at the very beginning of our road. A long road to a long-lasting, peaceful period.'
Soviet and American officials had painstakingly planned the details of the historic encounter for more than a month. But their plans were thrown into disarray when a fierce storm interrupted communications and transportation just five hours after their talks began on Saturday in the normally sun-drenched Marsaxlokk Bay.
Winds gusting up to 60 mph battered the American and Soviet guided missile cruisers USS Belknap and Slava anchored within 300 yards of each other. The winds bounced the vessels like tops.
The two leaders had traveled thousands of miles to meet each other, but for a time, it seemed the elements were conspiring to prevent them from bridging the final stretch of stormy water between the two gray warships. The stormy seas forced cancellation of one meeting between the two leaders and a dinner that was to have been hosted by Bush.
By Sunday morning, however, the violent storm had died down and Bush said he was 'energized' by the night the Belknap's captain said had been the stormiest he had seen in port in 24 years.
'I don't think that anyone can say that the saltwater summit was anything but an adventure,' quipped Bush at the joint news conference held in the ballroom of the luxury Soviet cruise liner Maxim Gorky.
Next to the ballroom was the library where the two held their discussions over a table so narrow that Gorbachev joked they could 'kick each other' in the event of disagreement.
The inclement weather forced the two to hold all their discussions aboard the Gorky, brought to Malta as a back-up for the Soviet delegation and press corps. Depite the weather, the two leaders apparently achieved a level of rapport that led to progress on a number of proposals.
Bush promised 'Most Favored Nation' trading status for the Soviet Union, removal of restrictions on trade credits, an investment treaty and observer status at the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, or GATT, group of nations.
'It is of principal importance,' Gorbachev said of the economic proposals, adding that success for Soviet reforms ultimately depended on a more rational pricing system and currency consolidation.
Georgi Arbatov, a longtime adviser to Gorbachev and head of his country's U.S.-Canada Institute, was more effusive about the economic help offered by the United States.
'The United States has declared the end of its economic war against the Soviet Union,' Arbatov said, adding that Gorbachev told him after the first round of talks Saturday 'the (U.S.) president did not come with empty pockets and no proposals.'
Although both leaders appeared to resolve many geopolitical issues that had plagued both their nations for the past 40 years, some points of contention remained, including differences on Central America, whether U.S. naval forces should be included in arms negotations, and the future roles of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
But as the two presidents left the island to consult with their allies, Malta capped the festive and friendly atmosphere of the summit with a brass band and dazzling fireworks display over its capital city.
If the summit participants are right, it was a celebration of the end of the Cold War.