Record of the First Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and FRG President Richard von Weizsäcker
On June 12, 1989, Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev began a four-day visit to West Germany, just two weeks after a similar visit to West Germany by United States President George H. W. Bush. Gorbachev had by the summer of 1989 become a popular figure and expectations were running high in West German society over the summit. From the Soviet Union's perspective, West Germany represented the largest economy in Europe and welcomed the possibility of increased trade. For many Germans, the visits by both Bush and Gorbachev during the summer of 1989 illustrated joint recognition of the new, pivotal role that West Germany played in East-West relations.
This document is an excerpt from a conversation between West German Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker and Mikhail Gorbachev on June 12, 1989. The primary message topic of conversation was an attempt to sustain the diplomatic conversations between the United States and the Soviet Union during this period of social and political upheaval in Eastern Europe.
At the same time, von Weizsäcker hoped to insert West Germany into the conversation, alluding to a feeling that the Europeans were being shut out of the diplomatic conversations. Gorbachev was open about his feelings and frustrations about dealing with the Americans. He felt that George H. W. Bush was honest and open when dealing personally with Gorbachev, but tended to return to Cold War rhetoric whenever discussing the Soviet Union in public.
This conversation reflects a larger concern that was shared by many European powers that the Cold War could see a resurgence, just when it looked as if real change was underway in Eastern Europe. Western Politicians, like von Weizsäcker, hoped to salvage as much as possible and act as a bridge between the United State and the Soviet Union.
Mikhail Gorbachev, conversation with Richard von Weizsacker, 12 June 1989, trans. Svetlana Savranskaya, Notes of A.S. Chernyaev, Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
Weizsacker. [...] Kissinger told me about your conversation, and he emphasized the importance of keeping up the confidential contacts. Such conversations should be held not just between Gorbachev and Bush. They could be conducted by specially authorized representatives as well. In any case, I can say that the atmosphere in the United States now is much less conservative than three months ago. And the numerous conversations that the Chancellor, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and other representatives of the FRG had with the American leadership made a significant contribution to the change in the atmosphere.
Gorbachev. Since we touched upon President Bush's line, I would like to emphasize that we enjoyed a confidential, positive atmosphere during our personal conversations. In order to preserve that atmosphere, even though the administration took such a long time to clarify its line regarding further development of Soviet-American relations, we pulled our patience together and did not criticize Bush and his government. We did not get pulled into the polemics even when the criticism about such a long pause began to grow exponentially among the public in the United States and Western Europe. Now we can see that we made the right decision.
Speaking about American foreign policy, I should point out that it has a number of inherent permanent weaknesses. First of all, when President Bush speaks one-on-one, he exhibits both pragmatism and the desire not to get stuck on ideological principles. However, when he makes public appearances, he makes statements that often sound like what we used to call "Reagan's crusade against communism." We believe that such returns to the past do not help to establish an atmosphere for a long period of peaceful interaction and cooperation, which we propose to the Bush administration. Those are some things that the American President needs to think about.
And secondly, the position of waiting out and taking their time in their approach to the issue of developing relations with the USSR is characteristic of the Bush administration as well as of its predecessors. Again and again they are making efforts to see if the Soviet Union, because of various difficulties that it is experiencing now, would move toward more concessionary positions, which would give an advantage to the United States. We repeatedly told them about the illusory nature of such an approach, and about the fact that one cannot build policy on the basis of misconceptions. But they still continue to cling to such an approach.