INTERVIEW WITH GERALD FORD
INTERVIEWER: It is the 4th of August 1997 we're in Beaver Creek and the tape number is 10741. Thank you very much Mr. President for being willing to contribute an interview to our Cold War series. Can I start by asking you about détente, how you thought of it did you approve of President Nixon's policy of détente with the USSR.
GERALD FORD: I fully approved of the Nixon approach in relations with the Soviet Union. Détente was a much better policy than having a face to face military confrontation. Détente meant that we recognized differences, domestically and internationally with the Soviet Union, but that it was better to solve problems than to have to have confrontations. I think in the perspective of history, détente will be viewed as a very effective and constructive approach to US Soviet relations.
INTERVIEWER: I'll move onto when you were President and you went in November of 74 to Vladivostock can you tell me first of all how much you think that meeting with Brezhnev laid the foundations for SALT II.
GERALD FORD: There is no question that those negotiations in Vladivostock achieved about a 90 - 95% solution to the nuclear threshold between the Soviet Union and the United States. In other words in 2 1/2 to three days of head to head confrontation with Mr. Brezhnev we came within 90 - 95% of solving the nuclear threshold between the two super powers.
INTERVIEWER: The relationship you had with Brezhnev and Brezhnev's own approach to the reduction in nuclear arms, how much do you think that was his view of what the future should be, as perhaps against some of the people in his own military industrial complex?
GERALD FORD: It was my distinct impression in sitting there in Vladivostock and subsequently in Helsinki that Mr. Brezhnev was more anxious than his military advisors to achieve some nuclear understanding agreement. Mr. Brezhnev was far more progressive I would say in trying to reduce the nuclear weapons, to achieve some kind of an agreement with the United States. Now we didn't finalize of course the negotiations those came later. But the two big issues in Vladivostock, we the United States were very very apprehensive about a Soviet aircraft to backfire. And the Soviets on the other hand were very apprehensive about US Cruise missile capabilities. Now we wanted to restrict the backfires range etc., the Soviets wanted to put limitations on the cruise missiles that we the United States had. But those were all solvable issues and problems, so even though Mr. Brezhnev and I didn't finalize our negotiations in Vladivostock or Helsinki, we certainly laid a very good foundation for SALT II.
INTERVIEWER: Can you describe your personal experience of Brezhnev leaning over to you in the car and expressing his own concern that the tragedy of world war 2 in terms of the suffering of the soviet people should never be repeated.
GERALD FORD: Well after we had spent 2 1/2 days in head to head confrontation. Top negotiation. Mr. Brezhnev asked me if I would like to go from where we were negotiating which was 10 or 15 miles outside of Vladivostock, if I would like to go and see the city of Vladivostock. So we got in this big Soviet limousine, I sat on this side of the back seat and Mr. Brezhnev on this side and a Commissar from the Soviets sat in the jump seat. We drove around the city of Vladivostock and, it's very impressive it reminds me a great deal of our city of San Francisco, well on the way back, Mr. Brezhnev leaned over and grabbed my left hand and said "Mr. President, both you and I fought in world war 2. My country lost 20 million of our citizens in that conflict, you and the United States about a million." He said, and he was very sincere, even though it was through a translator, he was anxious that he and I would be able to avoid a third world war, by reducing the nuclear threat, and I , I was impressed with his sincerity, I was impressed with his desire to achieve some success in these negotiations.
INTERVIEWER: Can we move on now to the Vietnam and what happened in 1975, if you could describe to what degree it was inevitable that South Vietnam would be taken over by the north, the fall of Saigon and whether the US could have done more to prevent that.
GERALD FORD: You have to go back to the Paris Accord of January of 1973, when the north Vietnamese and the United States made the following agreement. The North Vietnamese would remove all of their military from South Vietnam and they would release all US prisoners of war. And we the United States at the same time in order to get South Vietnamese cooperation agreed to provide military aid and economic assistance to the South Vietnamese. Unfortunately and very very regrettably, the north Vietnamese after signing the peace accord did not withdraw their military personnel from South Vietnam, and as a matter of fact added north Vietnamese military forces in South Vietnam and equally unfortunately the Congress of the United States refused to supply the kind of military assistance that was necessary to keep the south Vietnamese military forces strong, and the net result was it was inevitable under those circumstances that Saigon would fall. The North Vietnamese violated the Paris accords, and our Congress here in the United States refused to supply the necessary military assistance for the South Vietnamese. Under those circumstances the result was inevitable.
INTERVIEWER: Had there been no Watergate, would the results have been the same?
GERALD FORD: Watergate was a factor in the attitude of our Congress in supplying the necessary military funds to strengthen the South Vietnamese army, navy, air force and marines. Watergate had a very adverse impact on the Nixon capability of getting Congress to cooperate.
INTERVIEWER: Well much more positive were the Helsinki Accords of August 75, but the first question I want to ask you was what were the interests of the US that were served by the Helsinki Accords?
GERALD FORD: Well the Helsinki Accords were pretty broad, but the one issue that was important to the United States, was the elevation of Human Rights, so that the Soviet Union and its communist allies had to recognize that human rights were of equal importance across the board. We the United States believed that if we could get the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations to respect human rights, that was worth whatever else was agreed to in the Helsinki Accords.
INTERVIEWER: Can you reflect on why there wasn't more enthusiasm for that section at the time, which is in a way like a time bomb under the Soviet Union.
GERALD FORD: Well certainly the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact nations did not recognize that the Human rights provision was a time bomb. We in the United States and our western allies I'm sure, were hopeful that that provision would bring about the kind of uprisings that did take place in the Warsaw pact nations, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and even in the Soviet Union itself. History I think is going to recognize that the Helsinki Accord was one of the great diplomatic achievements in the past, in this current century.
INTERVIEWER: Well at the time, how much was it felt that codifying a legitimate post war boundary for the Soviets was too much of a concession?
GERALD FORD: You have to recognize that the terms of that agreement said those boundaries have to be maintained peacefully. In other words, the Helsinki accords ruled out military action to change those borders. Now as long as those borders were re-defined peacefully, that was okay under the Helsinki Accords. Well what happened when you had the human rights provisions, and the dissidents rose up against their dictators, they changed those borders the Baltic nations and even Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, they took advantage of the human rights provision, to re-define what the borders meant.
INTERVIEWER: In the light of what an achievement the accord turned out to be, why do you think there was so much criticism at the time?
GERALD FORD: The people who were critical in the United States didn't understand what the impact would be with the human rights provision. They so frozen in their opposition to the Soviet Union,and the way the Soviets for example had treated, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. They didn't realize that the human rights provision would end up with the kind of freedom that they wanted in the Baltic Nations. And it took time, it took the human rights development to convince them that Helsinki was a great step forward and a time bomb for communism.
INTERVIEWER: Well moving on now to the third world and particularly the conflict in Angola. Now did that prove that the Soviets wanted détente in some ways, but maybe it the 3rd world détente didn't apply. What do you think about that?
GERALD FORD: Well Angola is a unique situation, it was in 1970 and it is even today. In Angola in the 1970s you had a mixture of interests you had the American oil companies that wanted to continue to produce crude oil, you had the government itself in Angola which was sort of a satellite of the Soviet Union and then you had the impact of the Cuban mercenaries who were there for compensation on the one hand and maybe ideological reasons on the other. And then we the United States was interested in not letting that country in Africa become dominated by the Soviet Union, but we had the cooperation of a number of our western European allies. Now we the United States did not openly, but rather covertly, we worked with one or more European allies to help the Savimbi government. Not government but the Savimbi rebel forces. So it was a very convoluted, complicated situation in Angola. I wouldn't say that it was a factor in détente between the United States and the Soviet Union, it was strictly a unique African problem.