INTERVIEW WITH INTERVIEW WITH DR CONDOLEEZZA RICE - (17/12/97)
INTERVIEWER: Could you start by telling me why was Gorbachev's change in policy, as he set it out in his 1988 United Nations speech, and then in later speeches further on, about letting Eastern European nations evolve in their own way - why was that important to the United States' interests?
DR CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The Gorbachev December 1988 speech at the UN was really a turning point, because in that speech he talked about really rolling back Soviet military power in Eastern Europe, and he talked about letting Eastern Europe go its own way. The really kind of interesting thing is that I think many people only caught half of that message. I, for instance, really focused on the troop cut of 500,000; I was interested in the fact that they were cutting the most ready forces in Eastern Germany. I missed completely, really, the revocation of the Brezhnev doctrine. And later, in conversations with Gorbachev, and particularly his people, like Chernyaev, I think all of us learned that they had been more interested in, and believed that they were making more of a statement about Eastern Europe. So this was really an example of not quite getting the message. None the less, that speech did turn out to be a turning point, and the Soviets fulfilled their promise to remove their military power from Eastern Europe, and I think that was really the beginning of a revelation to the West that Gorbachev meant business.
INT: That's wonderful. In the first few months of the Bush Administration, what were your main concerns about the effects of Gorbachev's new thinking? For example, how long he could survive, given the opposition that was building at home, and whether he could actually be trusted at all?
CR: The interesting thing about going to Washington in February of 1989 - I arrived February 1st, 1989 - was that everything was in transition in Europe. But when you're in transition, you really can't see all that is going on around you; you tend very much to focus on what you can know; because a government, unlike academics or the press, cannot focus on what might be Soviet policy, but really on what Soviet policy is. And there were confusing signals in the winter from the Soviet Union about how much change was coming in Soviet policy. The Soviets were still very active in the Third World - in Cuba, for instance - and yet in Europe, the center of their empire, they seemed to be doing remarkable things. I think our concerns in the Bush Administration, as we entered that period, were to try and understand better Soviet policy, but also to really anchor some of the relationships that were going to mean a lot to us: the relationship with Germany, NATO, to focus a lot on the East Europeans themselves. Indeed, perhaps the most pressing issues were really about Eastern Europe: What was the meaning of the beginning of talks between the Polish communists and Solidarity in the Polish round table? Could we really expect that they were going to share power with Solidarity, which they'd just imprisoned just a few years before? So we were very focused in the early stages on Eastern Europe.
INT: Great. Can you summarize the importance of the meeting between Baker and Shevardnadze at Jackson Hall in Wyoming, just in terms of building trust between the two nations? What was it really all about?
CR: In a period of rapid change like the end of the Cold War, the time from early 1989 really through to 1991, personal relationships meant a great deal more than they might have at any other time. And I think the meeting between Baker and Shevardnadze at Jackson Hall was a first attempt, and really a first success, at getting the foreign ministers to know each other. They spent time together. I can remember watching poor Shevardnadze sort of reject initially Baker's effort to put a Western hat on him during a barbecue, and being quite startled at the thought that he might have to wear this hat. And those lighter moments mattered. But I think it's easy to forget that perhaps one of the most important things is the growing trust between Baker, and indeed Bush's staffs and those of Shevardnadze. It was at that meeting that we got to know Sergei Tarasenko very well for the first time; and at the working level, relations, as they were developed, really did serve us very well throughout the end of the Cold War.
INT: That's wonderful. When you were in Hungary in July '89 with President Bush, what conclusions did you draw about the possibilities of reform in Eastern Europe and the undermining of the whole communist system, and the US role in that?
(Interruption - something about sound)
CR: Yes. I really do think that the trip to Eastern Europe in July of 1989, to Poland and Hungary, was the culmination really of a period in which we had been assessing politics in Eastern Europe. It was after the agreement between the Polish communists and Solidarity to share power in a sense. And yet it was a period that was very tense, because just before, I think three days before we left for Warsaw, Jaruzelski announced that he would not indeed run for president, and we didn't know whether this meant that the Soviets would no longer back the deal between the Polish communists and Solidarity. I think we therefore saw this trip as an effort to try and allay fears, particularly in Poland, but also in Hungary, that the West was somehow going to take advantage of this moment, that we were going to try to force the action more rapidly than the region might be ready for. I can remember very well that President Bush said very directly to Jaruzelski, and then later to Rakovsky in meetings: "We will not make you choose between East and West. It is really not our job to tell Poland what its politics should be. We believe in the benefits of democracy and market economies, but we want you to have a good relationship with the Soviet Union - that also is important to you." That moment I still remember as one of tremendous relief for the Poles, because to have the United States try and force a dénouement with the Soviet Union would have been a terrible mistake. The Soviet Union was still a very powerful country, and people often forget that this country still, with 390,000 troops in Germany, 550,000 throughout Eastern Europe, needed to be treated very delicately. I think for the East Europeans, knowing that we were prepared to support them, but to support them at their own pace, was perhaps the most important outcome of that trip.
INT: Fantastic. Can you describe why the Americans adopted a policy of co-operation with the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe in 1989, and on what you base your assessment of that shift?
CR: One of the most difficult pieces of the puzzle in 1989 was how to deal with the Soviet Union about Eastern Europe. There were those who really wanted the Bush Administration to cut a deal with the Soviets, to say, "We will allow you to protect your sphere of influence if you will understand that we have to do things around German unification," and so forth and so on, "to try and keep stability." I would say that these were the people who were more concerned about stability in Eastern Europe, than about the liberation of Eastern Europe. There were also those who believed that the United States should push the pace of change in Eastern Europe, go to the Soviets and say, "Get out. The Cold War is over; we now dominate." And that also would have been a mistake. So what the Bush Administration tried to do, I think, was to find a middle ground; not to give the Soviets any rights in Eastern Europe, clearly to be for the liberation of Eastern Europe and their march toward democracy and market economies, but to also understand that the Soviet Union was still a player in Eastern Europe, still a factor in how this was all going to turn out, and to be respectful of Soviet interests, while indeed watching a set of events that were very quickly unraveling Soviet power in Eastern Europe. We were also very concerned to get Soviet troops out of Eastern E. Many people wanted us to focus on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties, the nuclear treaties that the Reagan Administratiohad recently negotiated, but we felt very strongly that the real problem in Eastern Europe was Soviet conventional forces. And so, efforts to reinvigorate the conventional forces in Europe talks, and to get the Soviets to leave Eastern Europe, became a centerpiece also of our European policy. The delicate trick was that we believed American troops belonged in Europe, and so there could be no parallelism in which American forces would promise to leave if Soviet forces went home. These were very delicate balancing acts, but I think one that in the end turned out fairly well.
(This question will be picked up later)
INT: ... Can we turn to Malta now? Can you tell me why President Bush wanted a sort of face-to-face, and in fact an informal meeting with Gorbachev? Why did he want that meeting?
CR: The Administration, and the President indeed, had been under great pressure for some time, really from the time that he came to office, to meet face to face with the Soviets. But my boss, Brent Scowcroft, in particular, was sort of worried about a premature summit, where you might have expectations set that something was going to happen, where the Soviets might grandstand and force us into agreements that would ultimately not be good for the United States. And so there was a period of resisting an early summit, putting first the trip to Eastern Europe, to affirm American support for democracy in Eastern Europe; second, to get through the NATO 45th anniversary celebration, where there were a lot of very sticky issues with the Germans about short-range nuclear forces; and then, only after those relationships had been stabilized, to think about how to deal with the Soviet Union in a summit. But European leaders - I believe in particular Francois Mitterrand - really prevailed upon President Bush to meet with Gorbachev, and I believe that Mrs. Thatcher also felt that that would be a good idea. There were those in the Congress who also were pressuring, and I think that President Bush, after seeing what was happening in Eastern Europe, believed it was time for a face-to-face meeting. And my understanding was that he, on the plane back from the trip in July to Eastern Europe, decided he should meet with Gorbachev. And then it took a long time to get it arranged, finding a place, a place that would not be ceremonial, a place where you didn't have to do a lot of other bilaterals. And fortunately - or unfortunately - they chose Malta, which turned out to be a really horrible place to be in December. Although the Maltese were wonderful, the weather was really bad.
INT: How did Malta get to... well, let me ask you: was Malta really a suitable location, in that case? How did you pick it, and how did you discover before the meeting that it may not be such a good place to go?
CR: Well, Malta turned out to be a terrific place to be from the point of view of the quality of the talks, but it turned out to be an awful place to be for the quality of the weather. I can remember coming back to the office after being told we were going to Malta, and saying something about this, and one of the secretaries had actually been the ambassador to Malta's secretary, and she said, "You're going to Malta in December? Do you know how horrible the storms can be?" And I think that was the first time anybody focused on the weather problem.
So we arrived in Malta. It was beautiful; everything was going just fine. And then the next day we woke up to this horrible storm. That made it very difficult to get back and forth, and a lot of the plans had to be scrapped. The notion of having one meeting on the Belnap, the American destroyer, and then a meeting on a Soviet ship, the Maxim Gorky, had to be scrapped. And since the Maxim Gorky was actually in port, we met all the time on the Maxim Gorky. But those little logistical details aside, and the fact that I don't swim very well and was terrified being in those launches trying to get out to the ships, the meetings themselves were very successful.
INT: Great. How did the situation change between Bush's invitation and the actual summit? Did that make a huge difference to the atmosphere as you went in?
CR: Well, one of the things about this period that you have to keep in mind is that events were unfolding so quickly that you would make a policy or make a decision or arrange a meeting, and before you could get there, everything had changed, and indeed the world changed dramatically between President Bush's first overture to Gorbachev in, I believe, August, and December when we actually met. The Wall had come down in Berlin, Poland was no longer a communist country, Hungary was no longer a communist country, and everything had changed. I think, though, that the essentials of the meeting had not changed, and that was that this was an effort to build a trust between Bush and Gorbachev, where they could talk about very difficult issues without a coterie of aides around them. There's a tendency, when presidents go to the summit, to have to carry three planeloads of people with them, and President Bush was determined that this would be a small group where they could have a conversation, not a summit. And that's precisely how this turned out, and I think it served us well as we went through the next more difficult issues that were still on the horizon.
INT: Wonderful. On the first day, why did President Bush decide to put all his initiatives, lay them all out straight away? Why did he do that?
CR: There had actually been quite a discussion in the Government about how to orchestrate the first day of the Malta summit. The President, I think, really just wanted a conversation, he wanted to talk to Gorbachev. But as the staff thought about it a little bit, we felt - and particularly, the honor for this really goes to Bob Zoellick and Dennis Ross of Secretary Baker's staff - that it would be better to have something to say that would demonstrate to the Soviets that we were indeed supportive of what they were trying to do in perestroika. After all, particularly in the American press, there had been all kinds of stories about the Bush Administration not supporting the Soviets, not believing in Gorbachev, being slow to start the process of US-Soviet relations; and indeed, nine months had passed since... almost a year would have passed since President Bush had been president, so we felt that he had to do something that would demonstrate... and so the initiatives were a way to do that. And by laying them all out as a package, and showing that the Administration had a plan for US-Soviet relations, for everything from arms control to financial support, to softer elements like bringing exchange students to the United States and sending Americans to the Soviet Union - I think it was a nice package and it set just the right tone.
INT: ... Absolutely perfect. Were there indications that Gorbachev was hostile or wary before the summit actually started?
CR: The message about what Gorbachev was feeling was mixed before Malta. We were hearing, for instance, from Brian Mulroney in Canada that the Soviets were on a tear about what Helmut Kohl had done with the 10 points on German unification in November, I think November 28th of 1989, and this is just a few days before the Malta summit. We had also heard from Mitterrand that the Soviets were very upset about the way events were unfolding. Indeed, we had some of our own information that there was a lot of discomfort in Moscow. So I think we expected, not a hostile Gorbachev, but perhaps a Gorbachev who was more worried, more concerned, and agitated is perhaps the right word. We found a Gorbachev who was calm. I first met him on this trip, and he walked up to me on the Maxim Gorky. President Bush was stuck out on the Belnap, so we were all just sort of wandering on the Maxim Gorky; and he walked up and I introduced myself, and I was struck right away by the fact that he seemed supremely confident, he said something about hoping that the waters of international relations weren't as rough as the waters in which we were sitting. But generally, he seemed on top of his game, and not agitated, and I think that was a great relief all of us.
INT: That is wonderful. And he was relieved when Bush set out his initiatives. What was his response?
CR: When the President set out his initiatives, Gorbachev said, "Now I really do believe that you're supportive." So it did what it was supposed to do. I think any one of the initiatives was perhaps less than they might have hoped for, but the fact that we were willing to engage, I think was extremely important to them.
INT: Absolutely. Now the afternoon of that first day, President Bush went back to the Belnap and was stranded. Can you tell me what it was like, what the atmosphere was like?
CR: Well, here we were, the staff, on the Maxim Gorky, and the President and most of our bosses - Secretary Baker, Brent Scowcroft - out on the Belnap, and we had nothing to do, so we sat around and we had philosophical discussions about when could we say the Cold War would end, we talked to our Russian counterparts a little bit, we took pictures. It was sort of a nice afternoon. Usually, when you go on these trips, you work so hard that you don't have time for that sort of thing. But I think something very important did happen a little bit later, which was that we learned that the Soviets were actually spinning the press to, we thought, paint the first meeting as one in which Gorbachev had taken the initiative. Now this may sound a little bit silly and petty to people, but when you're in the White House, you want credit for this major initiative. So Margaret Tuttweiler [ph], who was president... who was Jim Baker's press secretary, managed on a radio to get through to the Belnap to say we needed to go on the offensive on the press. And we organized ourselves to call the press and to tell them what had actually happened, and the next morning it said: "Bush lays out initiatives". So we worked very hard, but it was not doing exactly what we thought we'd be doing.
INT: Were you feeling seasick? It was terrible, wasn't it?
CR: The weather was really awful, and I wasn't seasick because I had taken a patch to keep seasickness... and the Gorky was pretty stable, because it was a big cruise ship and it was anchored in port. Probably the most frightening moments, though, were when you had to leave the Gorky and you had to walk down this plank, with ocean on both sides, winds howling, rain coming right at you, and since I'm not the world's best swimmer, I thought, "Well, I guess I could die here for my country and no one would ever know it." But it was not really seasickness, it was just a sense that the whole place... the weather was so awful that you couldn't achieve what you wanted to achieve.