WASHINGTON — A determinedly upbeat Mikhail S. Gorbachev, declaring his summit meeting with President Reagan to be "a major event in world politics," chose the forum of a final press conference here Thursday night to seek support from the American public for his approach to further improvements in U.S.-Soviet relations.
And, as he has throughout his four-day visit to Washington, the Soviet leader adopted a familiar American form but put his own distinctive stamp on it.
Windy Opening Statement
Without showing a trace of fatigue from his non-stop schedule of meetings and appearances, Gorbachev launched the press conference with a windy 73-minute opening statement before taking his first question. American Presidents, by contrast, would not dream of delivering an opening statement longer than three or four minutes.
Gorbachev, with his deep voice and occasional smile, talked so long at the outset that some American television stations switched back to their dinner-hour weather reports.
Animated, sometimes flashing humor and sometimes combative but always in charge, Gorbachev once more showed himself to be a shrewd and supremely self-confident politician.
His effort to dominate the conference--held in a steeply tiered theater in the residential compound for Soviet diplomats stationed here--extended even to the press itself. Gorbachev delivered a short lecture to reporters, declaring that the news media could use some perestroika, or restructuring.
Complaining of the repetitious nature of the questions he gets about political prisoners in the Soviet Union, he jibed, "I envy you if everything is clear in your minds."
He explained that he does not give frequent interviews because reporters always accuse the Soviet Union of refusing to allow free emigration. On the contrary, he argued, only 222 persons have been denied permission to leave his country--all of them people with knowledge of important defense secrets.
"No matter what you say--no matter what you shout at us--we shall not let them go before their knowledge of these secrets has evaporated," he declared.
Gorbachev then questioned why reporters continue to harp on this subject, even after they have heard his answer. "To beat the air?" he asked.
"And yet all of these interviews boil down just to those questions, as if we are agreeing to give interviews not just to try and search for the truth, to pull each other towards serious thinking, but all the aim seems to be somehow to drive the politician into a corner. Is that a dialogue? Is that an interview? That's not what the media is for."
After his outburst, he concluded on a conciliatory note.
"I'm not trying to accuse any of you or to assert that the politicians are all that good or that the people in the media are so bad," he said.
In general, the tone Gorbachev chose to strike was a positive one, aimed at proclaiming and extolling what he twice called "a new phase" in Soviet-American relations.
Gorbachev sought again and again to assure the United States of the sincerity of his desire for better relations. His remarks appeared aimed at strengthening the political constituency in the United States in favor of further arms control negotiations as the Senate prepares to take up the arms treaty on intermediate-range nuclear missiles signed this week.
"Within the Soviet leadership, there are no two opinions. There is one opinion, and we are in favor of an improvement in relations with the United States," Gorbachev declared.
He said the two sides had made "considerable headway" in discussions concerning a strategic arms, or START, treaty that would reduce each side's intercontinental ballistic missiles by 50%.
The Soviet leader's tone of euphoria extended beyond arms control to many other aspects of his talks with President Reagan and other American leaders. He pointed to the joint communique issued Thursday as evidence of the "deepening political dialogue" between the two countries. "They are now emerging from the long drawn-out confrontation," he said.
His personal relations with Reagan also improved during the summit, Gorbachev insisted.
"We now have more understanding between the President and myself," the Soviet leader said. "We now have in our dialogue--it's more businesslike, a more constructive approach. And I would even venture to say that we trust each other more.
'Views Have Changed'
"I guess that the President's views have changed for the better, as have mine," Gorbachev said.
Even on issues where Gorbachev was forced to concede that little visible progress had been made, such as Afghanistan and other regional disputes, the Soviet leader seemed anxious to put the best possible face on this week's discussions.
"I can't say that we have made much headway on the discussion of these (regional) problems," he said. Still, the Soviet leader continued, "We all had the feeling that the U.S. Administration has come to approach somewhat more realistically these regional problems."