F ormer Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger was interviewed last week by Manfred Geist, co-editor in chief of the German weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Kissinger's responses included the following comments on the Administration's dealings with Iran and on the prospects for another U.S.-Soviet summit.
Question: What are the lessons of the Iran- contra affair?
Kissinger: First, the National Security Council was not performing its primary function. The primary function is to make sure the President is given all the choices that are available. When I read the memorandum released by the White House that Adm. (John M.) Poindexter (then national security adviser) submitted to the President, I found it appalling that he presented justifications unworthy of such a major decision. He said that Iraq was winning the war. The only man in the world who had that view had no supporting evidence.
Second, at the end of the memorandum he said, without comment, almost as an afterthought, that the secretaries of state and defense were opposed. The President is entitled to know the pros and cons of a major decision. What is the impact on other countries? Above all, if two major Cabinet members are opposed, the President has every right to overrule them, but he needs to know why they are opposed so that he can make an assessment.
The intellectual approach was amazingly superficial. If we assume that the objective was to improve relations with Iran, why would one think that the way to achieve this end would be to bribe the Iranian government? Why at least wasn't the argument made that relations with a revolutionary government can improve only if that government, for its own reasons, becomes convinced that it needs better cooperation with us, as China did in the 1970s? If you bribe them, then they have no reason to change because they can then both be radical and have good relations with us. Finally, it is often said that one objective was to end the war between Iran and Iraq. Now, I assume that meant "end the war" on the basis of the territorial integrity of Iraq, not by a victory by Iran. Did anyone ask why we would give arms to the side that was already winning and whose victories were against our interest? The lessons are that before a major decision . . . the staff must give the President the real choices. . . . In fact, the new security adviser, Frank Carlucci, is attempting to do this and at his level the right lessons have been learned.
Q: In his State of the Union message, President Reagan said . . . he was trying to establish contact with the country of strategic importance. He did not mention the contra aspect. Do you think that helped to restore the trust of the allies in the coherence and reliability of foreign policy?
A: I agree with President Reagan that this country should try to establish better relations with Iran. I believe that sooner or later the political realities of Iran will drive it towards better relations with the West. . . . Was it the right time to bring about the change? I have not seen evidence to that effect. If one assumes it was the right time, the question becomes whether the sale of arms is wise, at a time when Iran is engaged in a war that could unhinge the moderate forces in the Middle East and the Western economy. That I think was a great mistake. As to the hostages, I am opposed to negotiating about hostages at all, much less paying ransom. Once you open a negotiation, you have indicated that there is some price you are willing to pay; only the nature of it remains in dispute. The best way to protect not the actual hostages but potential hostages is to devalue any hostages to a point where you say, "You've got them, but what are you going to do with them? We will not negotiate."
Q: Do you expect another meeting of Reagan and Gorbachev?
A: Yes. The Soviets will redefine what they mean by laboratory tests on SDI (the Strategic Defense Initiative) and they will say that it does not have to be inside a building, it can be anywhere, even in space, as long as it excludes weapons. Laboratory tests will be defined in a certain way as scientific research but not development research. They will then offer to sign the zero option this year in the United States together with a Vladivostok-type agreement on the 50% reduction and SDI limitations, the details to be negotiated during the year. . . . I think that this will be universally hailed in the West, with only a few odd characters like me who will oppose it.
Q: What is your reason for opposing it?
A: I think that the 50% reduction is practically meaningless. It doesn't change the danger that now exists for the retaliatory forces or the civilian populations. . . . Zero option and SDI would mean that the two programs that worry the Soviets have been given up for nothing, at a moment of maximum Soviet weakness. My question is, if we cannot bring about a change in Soviet policy now, when? . . . What I foresee means that the Soviets have taken care of the things that concern them and they have given us nothing on what concerns us, on conventional forces, on the threat to Europe or on pressures on the Third World, and therefore I would be very unhappy.