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RUSSIAN VOICES : A Fly on the Diplomatic Wall : Thursday, Dec. 10, 1987 : The White House

March 21, 1993

Following his first visit to the White House, Mikhail Gorbachev bids farewell to Ronald Reagan, then slips into the back seat of his black ZIL limousine, where he is joined by Vice President George Bush. Gorbachev looks forward to the meeting, having long tired of Reagan's lack of spontaneity, anti-Soviet jokes, and the incessant repetition--always as if for the first time--of the Russian proverb " doveryai, no proveryai " ("trust, but verify"), which Gorbachev took as an insult. Under a soft rain, the car rolls out the White House driveway.

Bush: Mikhail, I've got something on my mind, and I'd prefer that you never publicize what I am about to say. (Gorbachev nods.) There's a good chance that I'm going to win the presidential election next year. Dole looks pretty dangerous right now, but I think I'll get the Republican nomination. If I'm elected--and I think I will be--you should understand that I want to improve our relations. . . .

As vice president, I've had to keep my moderate views to myself. The President, you see, is surrounded by marginal intellectual thugs who would be delighted to seize on any evidence that I'm a closet liberal. So during the coming campaign, I'll have to say and do a lot of things to get elected. You should ignore them.

Gorbachev, heartened by Bush's frankness: I understand.

April 6, 1989

Number Ten Downing Street,


Gorbachev meets privately with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, incensed that after nearly three months in office, the Bush Administration has failed to abandon the harsh anti-Soviet rhetoric it adopted during the campaign.

Gorbachev: Margaret, several times you have vouched for George. Hadn't you promised me that the new President would pick up where Reagan had left off? Well, nothing is happening--nothing except a lot of petty harassments! The whole situation is intolerable!

Thatcher urges Gorbachev to be patient, but immediately after the meeting fires off a message to Bush saying that Gorbachev is worried and upset, and with reason: The United States is indeed taking an awfully long time to formulate its policy toward the Soviets.

May 21, 1989

Kennebunkport, Maine

Lying in bed in front of a white-painted wooden headboard-bookcase crammed with duck decoys, family snapshots and books, Bush contemplates the horse race with his Russian counterpart. He reads American newspaper reports of foreign and domestic leaders disputing Vice President Dan Quayle's assertion that Gorbachev's reforms were "really marginal."

Then Bush grimaces at a New York Times editorial that reads: "Imagine that an alien spaceship approached earth and sent the message: 'Take me to your leader.' Who would that be? Without doubt, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev."

July 13, 1989


As the City of Light celebrates the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, the annual meeting of the leaders of the seven major industrial democracies (the so-called Group of Seven, or G-7) convenes. It is George Bush's chance to assert his dominance as world leader. But the Group of Seven becomes a de facto Group of Eight when an uninvited guest, Mikhail Gorbachev, storms the summit via a letter he has asked French President Francois Mitterrand to read to the leaders. The Soviet Union wants to join in promoting worldwide growth and easing the indebtedness of the Third World, the letter says. In effect applying for membership in the West's most exclusive club, Gorbachev writes, " Perestroika is inseparable from a policy aimed at our full participation in the world economy." After the letter is read, the American delegation is livid.

Secretary of State James Baker: He's trying to hijack the summit! He's butting in, screwing up what we want to accomplish here.

National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft: Pure grandstanding!

July 18, 1989

Air Force One

Baker counsels the President that Gorbachev and his foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze are "pretty much for real" and that it is time to "get engaged" with them. Bush calls for a sheet of White House stationery. Bush (writing in longhand): I would like very much to sit down and talk to you, if you are agreeable to the idea. I want to do it without thousands of assistants hovering over our shoulders, without the ever-present briefing papers and certainly without the press yelling at us every five minutes about "who's winning."

July 29, 1989


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