But over time and a couple more landmark summit meetings in Washington and Moscow, the two forged a genuine friendship and negotiated a landmark arms control treaty that for the first time did not just slow the arms race but eliminated an entire category of weapons and set the stage for an eventual end to the Cold War.
“Initially, each found the other exacerbating — Gorbachev driven nuts by Reagan’s stories and Reagan by Gorbachev’s inability to grasp the wonders of the Strategic Defense Initiative,” said Kenneth L. Adelman, Reagan’s arms control chief and author of “Reagan at Reykjavik.” “But eventually each understood that the other was sincere in seeking to end the horrifying nuclear threat.”
While in Moscow during his final year in office, Reagan was asked if he still viewed the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” he had long called it. “No,” he said. “That was another time, another era.” And he praised Mr. Gorbachev for the change. “Mr. Gorbachev,” he told reporters at a news conference in Moscow, “deserves most of the credit, as the leader of this country.” During another trip to Moscow a year after leaving office, Reagan told reporters that “President Gorbachev and I discovered a sort of a bond, a friendship between us.”
In running for president in 1988, Bush initially thought Reagan had gone too far and trusted too much. After taking office, Bush put the relationship on hold for months pending a policy review, what came to be known as “the pause,” much to Mr. Gorbachev’s consternation. But Bush, too, eventually befriended the Soviet leader and found ways to collaborate that had profound implications for world history.
Jeffrey A. Engel, author of “When the World Seemed New,” a history of Bush’s foreign policy, said the connection between the 41st president and the last Soviet leader “changed over time from profound skepticism bordering on mistrust” to a “good working relationship.” But it was a relationship, he added, that was born out of pragmatic necessity on both sides.
“Gorbachev needed Bush’s recognition, support and, most critically, money,” said Mr. Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. “Bush knew whomever came after Gorbachev, especially if due to a coup or violent sudden transition of power, would likely roll back all of his reforms and reignite a smoldering Cold War.”