President George Bush prepares for his first summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The theme of the meeting was cooperation between the two superpowers in dealing with the Iraqi crisis in the Middle East.
In August 1990, Iraqi forces attacked the neighboring nation of Kuwait, setting off a crisis situation in the Middle East. Many U.S. officials were concerned about the Soviet attitude toward the Iraqi attack. Russian military advisers were known to be in Iraq, and previous crises in the Middle East–the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Six-Day War of 1967, and the Yom Kippur War of 1973–had nearly brought the United States and Russia to blows. By 1990, however, relations between the two Cold War enemies had changed dramatically. Since coming to power in 1985, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev made it one of the keynotes of his regime to improve diplomatic relations with America. He and President Ronald Reagan engaged in a series of highly publicized summits, and tremendous progress was made in the area of arms control. When George Bush took over as president in 1989, he was faced with two policy options. The first came from a group of his advisers who suggested that the Soviets could not be trusted and that Gorbachev was, as Vice President Dan Quayle put it, a hard-line Stalinist “in Gucci shoes.” They recommended that Bush break from the Reagan-era diplomacy, and take a tougher stand with the Soviets. Other Bush advisers cautioned the president to continue to take a cooperative approach. They believed that Gorbachev was the only man who could lead the Soviet Union to greater political and economic reforms. Bush’s first summit with Gorbachev in September 1990 would be a demonstration of which policy position Bush would take.
The summit suggested that Bush would stay with the Reagan-era diplomatic approach. Although no groundbreaking agreements emerged from the Bush-Gorbachev meeting in Helsinki, the two nations agreed to cooperate in handling the Iraqi crisis. The Soviets, for their part, agreed to stand aside as the United States applied increasing pressure on Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. When the United States military launched an assault on Iraq in January 1991, the Soviets refrained from taking action. In the United Nations, the Soviet Union did nothing to block U.S. efforts to have U.N. forces help in the battle against Iraq. From being Cold War antagonists, the United States and Soviet Union had come to work together as international peacekeepers.