INTERVIEW WITH JAMES BAKER - OCTOBER 1997
INTERVIEWER: Secretary of State James Baker, Mr. Baker after the excitements of the Gorbachev speech at the United Nations in December 88 you became Secretary of State in the first months of the Bush presidency with you as Secretary of State there were no immediate United States initiatives to follow up the momentum of the events of the end of the previous year, was that a deliberate pause?
JAMES BAKER: Yes there was a deliberate pause when President Bush succeeded President Reagan in all Foreign Policy matters not just matters involving the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, I think it's quite appropriate for a new president coming in to put his stamp if you will on foreign policies. It is more than just appropriate it is probably necessary and required under our constitutional system because in order to support a foreign policy a president has to have the support of the congress and he has to have the support of the American people, and putting his stamp on foreign affairs is a very important part of generating that support.
INTERVIEWER: What were your concerns about the Soviet Union that you explored as you reconsidered?
JAMES BAKER: Well the Soviet Union was still in the position of being able to destroy the United States, the only country in the world that had the United States targeted with strategic nuclear weapons and it was quite important to make sure that that relationship, that we got that relationship right. It was quite important to satisfy ourselves for instance that we were proceeding in the right way with the relationship, quite important to satisfy ourselves that indeed when the Soviet leaders said they were going to forswear the use of force that they really meant it. That we could believe them. President Carter in a predecessor administration had believed some comments like that during a period of détente and the Soviets then marched into Afghanistan and he was not only surprised, he was embarrassed. And those types of things were the kind of things we wanted to guard against but it was also important to have the new players, and we had a new foreign policy team at every post, every position, we had the new players make their own determination. There is not much that we are gonna be able to do about that fellas I mean I don't know, unfortunately I'll tell you the, well it's this darned city hall down here and they start playing this music
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Secretary what were the concerns that you were reflecting on as you reflecting on as you re-examined policy?
JAMES BAKER: Well we were re-examining policy with respect to all foreign policy issues this was not just a re-examination of the relationship between the United States and Soviet Union and policy towards the Soviet Union. It was a generic re-examination. With respect to the Soviet Union of course it was the only country in the world that had the ability to destroy the United States with strategic nuclear weapons targeted on the United States and our allies and it was very important that we get it right, and it was very important that we satisfy ourselves that when the new leaders of the Soviet Union, when President Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Shevernadze said that they were not gonna use force to keep the empire together, that they really meant it. That there was some basis for believing that.
INTERVIEWER: What persuaded you that it was time to move forward?
JAMES BAKER: Well by May of 1989 we had some face to face meetings with the Soviet leaders I had particularly had some with Edward Shevernadze I certainly made a determination in my own mind, that it was time to move forward. I recommended that to the president I think he quickly came to the same conclusion that we needed to test Soviet intentions. They were saying the right things, but it was important that we match action with words and that's so we started at that point I'd say in the middle of may 1989 to test their intentions.
INTERVIEWER: I'd like to come onto Shevernadze in a moment, but ask you first of all, was what was happening in the Soviet Union, when did you come to believe that that was in the United States interest?
JAMES BAKER: well I think that was probably at a later date than in May of 1989. At that time it was important for us to, to make a reasoned determination that Perestroika and Glasnost were for real. That it wasn't just a flim flam or a sham. And when we concluded that they were for real and when we began to see clear evidence that force would not be used to keep the empire together, it was it was quite apparent that that these were people as Prime Minister Thatcher said, that we could do business with.
INTERVIEWER: In May 89, you talked to Edward Shevernadze in Moscow, what did you make of him?
JAMES BAKER: Well what I made of him was that he was a serious
INTERVIEWER: Could you say, you know could you say when I
JAMES BAKER: Yeah sure, when I met with Edouard Shevernadze, I think the first meeting was in Vienna actually at a at an arms control conference but I had subsequent meetings with him both in Moscow and in Paris at a Cambodian I think it was a conference on Cambodian peace, but I concluded that he was a very serious man, I concluded frankly that he was someone I could trust. He was very open in talking about some of the domestic problems in the Soviet Union, I never found him to say anything to me, that he was not willing to back up with what action and I told President Bush I said this is I think a person that we can trust. And as it turned out that was true and I think both Mikhail Gorbachev and Edouard Shevernadze deserve an extraordinary amount of credit for what they were able to do, taking that society there and turning it in a completely 180° direction both politically economically and socially to do that after 70 years it just boggles the mind to think about the personal and political courage that is involved in doing something like that.
INTERVIEWER: He was very frank in telling you about the Soviet Union's problems.
JAMES BAKER: Yes Shevernadze was very frank in telling me about the Soviet Union's problems, the more we met the better we got to know each other the more we developed a personal relationship and personal chemistry and by the way on my first trip to Moscow he had my wife and I, he and his wife had my wife and I to their apartment to dinner which was a really very unique approach to US Soviet affairs, and he was, he was thoughtful, he was reasoned, he was a person that you could make suggestions to who would actually go back and weigh those suggestions and give consideration to them and he was someone you could reason with.
INTERVIEWER: You invited him later that year to a ministerial in the relaxed surroundings of Jacksonhole Wyoming, what was the atmosphere like there?
JAMES BAKER: The atmosphere in Jacksonhole was terrific, we decided to do that, that was really an idea that germinated in the minds of my assistant Secretary of State for communications Margaret Tuppler. The idea was the soviets had never been allowed to go anywhere in the United States outside of a 25 mile radius around Washington and the UN I mean New York the UN in Washington where there mission was. And it would be important to take him out in the countryside and show him a little bit of the United States and it would make for a more relaxed setting for these long and laborious and complex and technical negotiations on these esoteric arms control matters. And it worked that way.
INTERVIEWER: Was he much of a fisherman.
JAMES BAKER: No in fact he was not a fisherman at all, and he said as much and he had great difficulty learning, in fact did not learn to use a spin casting rod and certainly not a fly rod and he didn't catch any fish, and he was I think disappointed in that, and he wanted to repay the favor later on he took me to Lake Bikal in Siberia and we went fishing there and fortunately we both caught fish on that trip.
INTERVIEWER: What was achieved at Jacksonhole?
JAMES BAKER: What was achieved at Jacksonhole was I think a new atmosphere of trust, both ways. I think the Soviets concluded that notwithstanding the pause in the relationship as a consequence of having a new president come on board, that we were serious about doing some substantial and serious business with the Soviet Union, and we concluded the same thing as a result of the meetings in Jacksonhole and we made some very significant breakthroughs, in particularly in arms control issues, on arms control issues that had been hanging up the relationship for quite some time. Separating for instance what we do with sea launch cruise missiles from the negotiations over START. Making significant progress on chemical weapons and so forth.