INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH-OCTOBER 1997
INTERVIEWER: You speak to me and in addition to that my questions will not be included [chat re how to do interview]
Fine Okay Mr. President, can I first of all talk about your years as vice president and to talk to you about Gorbachev, now when he arrived in Europe and the United States in 1987, do you think his popularity among the people and his popularity seeking was it in any way a worry to you especially on his walkabouts?
GEORGE BUSH: No it wasn't a worry it was a great tribute to a man who had captured the imagination of the American people and indeed the people of Europe and he was recorded a hero's welcome when he came here, I was vice president, I rode with him one day from the Soviet Embassy to the White House and he saw all these people out there on the road and you know after I had suggested to him he stopped and I said "You know if you walked into that store you would be accorded a very warm welcome." The next thing I know he told the motorcade to stop and jumped out and sure enough all these pictures may hold part of the history, but he was rated a great and warm welcome and all that was very positive I think. I saw him now no down side to that at all.
INTERVIEWER: Now lets turn to Reykjavik and Reagan and Gorbachev very nearly agreed to eliminate all nuclear weapons during discussions at Reykjavik, were you worried and what was your reaction to the ....
GEORGE BUSH: Well I wasn't really in on it, that kind of developed on the spot I think and so there wasn't any briefing that both we're gonna propose eliminating all nuclear weapons if there was I don't recall any such briefing and I can be reasonably certain there wasn't. But no that Reagan and Gorby, Gorbachev got very close on that, but I don't think that would have been a particularly productive thing at that juncture.
INTERVIEWER: So are you saying that you were alarmed at the fact that these
GEORGE BUSH: I didn't say alarmed, but I just said that I just didn't think it would be particularly constructive at that juncture and I think history has subsequently proven that, you know it's pretty hard to work out anything meaningful to eliminate all nuclear weapons. There's a lotta countries including the UK who would not have been too amused by that. The French.
INTERVIEWER: Mmm, so how good was American intelligence in the late 80s about the state of the Soviet Union, I mean did you, did you know how close to collapse the Soviet Union was during that time?
GEORGE BUSH: Well you know I've read a lot of criticism of the Central Intelligence Agency, but I don't buy into that, I don't I don't think the estimates were very far off, but now if your question is did we, did the intelligence community get it 100% right on the rapidity of the decline, the rapidity of the implosion of the Soviet Union, I would have to say no, nor did anybody else. The same thing is true for the Unification of Germany, I mean events started happening rapidly and I don't think anybody had it predicted for the whole thing would happen, well during my four years as president.
INTERVIEWER: But there was an awareness then that there were weaknesses in the Soviet Union, that the enemy that had been really fearful, was somebody now who was less strong than you had previously thought.
GEORGE BUSH: Well but not less worrisome, not less worrisome. I mean that began to change with Gorbachev but there were still, still things that we were concerned about.
INTERVIEWER: Right, Now in the months after your election you slowed down the pace of American Soviet negotiations and you had a pause, could you tell me why there was a pause and what the main concerns were that you had about the Soviets at that time?
GEORGE BUSH: Well we, I came in having been at Reagans side for 8 years and I felt after talking to my to advisors General Scowcroft and Jim Baker, defense, that what we outta do is have a total re-evaluation as to where we stood. I also felt that we might have an opportunity to make dramatic progress in terms of arms control in terms of relations with the Soviet Union, because everyone has seen the Perestroika Glasnost and looked very favorably upon that, but I just thought it was prudent as a new administration to take some time to re-evaluate the situation. We had a new team, a lot of experts and I think it paid off, but I tell ya there was a lot of criticism, their foot dragging they don't know what they're gonna do, that was all laid to rest at a summit meeting they had with Gorbachev later on and some of the most fierce critics in the press finally had to concede that not only do we know what we were doing, but we had a pretty good Agenda, in the sense took Gorbachev by surprise.
INTERVIEWER: Could you give us a flavor of the sort of concerns that were there at the time, I mean for instance not trusting Gorbachev, the feeling that he was a new .....
GEORGE BUSH: Well there were some that weren't sure how Gorbachev was gonna, what he was really about. I, I had just written a book with General Scowcroft and in that book we talked about this, and I think some felt I might have been a little naive in trusting Gorbachev as much as I did, but I felt the changes were for real. We had some who weren't that sure, they didn't quite know how the Soviet, where the Soviet Military would come down in the face of all this change a very understandable concern I might add, very understandable. Because later on the Berlin wall came down and Lithuania was struggling to be free. We worried about how the Soviet military would react. What Gorbachev standing could be with the military, so there was plenty of reason to have concerns about, about the intentions, the true intentions of Gorbachev. and the true intentions of those in the military around him.
INTERVIEWER: Right can we turn to eastern Europe and can I ask you how far did you co-operate with the Soviets in not making difficulties for them, when in 1989 the changes were taking place....
GEORGE BUSH: We tried hard to do that. Probably the biggest example was
INTERVIEWER: Can I ask you to say "We tried hard to co-operate" that would be helpful
GEORGE BUSH: Well we tried hard to co-operate with the Soviets, but it really, put it this way, we tried hard to understand the pressures on Gorbachev and not stick our fingers in Gorbachev's eye. The best example is when the Berlin wall came down. It would have been idiotic for me to do what the democratic leader in the Senate of the US George Mitchell suggested, but the democratic leader of the House of Representative Gephardt suggested. "Go show your emotion, dance on the wall with these students, don't you Bush have any feeling for the change this dramatic change what freedom is about." The stupidest thing that any president could do, could have done then would have been going over there, danced on the Berlin wall, and stick his fingers right into the eyes of the Soviet military and of Gorbachev. Who knows how they would have had to react. And we didn't do that. And there were a lot of examples where we tried to understand his position, tried to be restrained, probably as good an example was the Baltic states we never recognized in the US the Soviet occupation or the takeover of the Baltic states, we always had a little, funny little embassies in Washington during the Cold War days but when, when Gorbachev was having difficulties with Landsburgh of Lithuania we tried to understand his position, we tried to understand and to hold back the public demands. We had one Senator that went over and was dramatically knocking on the door of Lithuania or something, "Free Lithuania Mr. Gorbachev" well he was up for election we all understood that, but it for a president you gotta show a certain restraint and be sure to keep things on the right track. And it was Berlin I mean it was the Berlin wall, it was the liberation of the Baltics it was how we treated Tolin in Hungary all of those things we were on freedoms side, but we also tried to understand the tremendous pressure on Gorbachev inside of Russia and I think history will say, well that was a prudent thing to do.
INTERVIEWER: That was a very good answer, thank you very much. Now when you visited Eastern Europe in July 89, what view did you take of the reforms taking place in Hungary and Poland, and what was your objective in offering them aid?
GEORGE BUSH: I was very impressed with the reforms taking place in Poland and in Hungary. we were not in a position to offer a lot of financial aid, I was getting hammered for deficits back in the United States at the very time I was travelling in Poland on a brief trip to Poland and Hungary. So I knew that we didn't have deep pockets, that we couldn't give Lech Walesa the Poles what they wanted and similarly we couldn't do, give a lot of financial support to Hungary, what we did try to do, was encourage this move towards open markets, less regulation, more privatization, salute them for the political changes that have taken place, the moves to democracy and stand with them as allies. And we did have some modest economic packages for both countries, but really we did not wanna kind of pump money down a rat hole either, We wanted to be sure that the economic reforms, the moves towards free markets those things, were for real. That they were gonna continue. And so we were kinda walking a tightrope, but there was no tightrope when it, when it came to standing side by side in solidarity in support of Walesa and Solidarnosc itself and clearly in support of the democratic change in Hungary, so it was it was I wouldn't say a trying time, but a time when we could give them a lot of moral support, but were reluctant to give financial support until we really were certain that the changes were for real.
INTERVIEWER: Can you describe how you felt when you were given that piece of barbed wire in Hungary,
GEORGE BUSH: I was given a piece of barbed wire in Hungary, which symbolized the coming down of the iron curtain. It was very emotional for me the Germans had rejoiced when Hungary had had permitted people to escape you might say. We were delighted and I dunno kind of an emotional sort of person anyway, I cry too easily. I did then and I do now, and I had tears in my eyes when I, when I was given this symbol of the end of the cold war. Now everybody has different dates as to when the Cold War actually ended, it clearly, when Hungary permitted the flow of people through there that was a significant event, and an emotional one for me.