Mikhail Gorbachev was General Secretary of the USSR from 1985-1991.

Mikhail Gorbachev

On Ending the Cold War

I think that Gorbachev should get credit for the changes that happened in the Soviet Union...and both in domestic and foreign policies of the Soviet Union should get credit... That was very important. But Reagan, Shultz, and George Bush, they, too, should get credit because without their work, again, we wouldn't have ended the Cold War. Also, Mitterand, Thatcher, Andriotti, Chancellor Kohl, all of them, too should get part of the credit. So I think it was an important moment when the leaders of the leading countries of the world were able to reach a mutual understanding and act responsibly. But it was all a very dramatic process. After Reykjavik, Mrs. Thatcher, for example, was very concerned. She said, you may remember, "One more Reykjavik and we'll be in trouble." Then we had a talk with her but we were able to reach common ground with her as well. Even though she is very stubborn and very consistent...very persistent person in promoting nuclear deterrence. Well, people have their own views.

On His Attitude Towards Ronald Reagan

Sometimes people ask me now, "You're so different, Reagan did not like detail. Reagan liked generalities in politics in policies. Reagan did not like detailed analysis." But, well, different people have different styles. And what President Reagan was doing was in his manner, in his style. And of course, he was also accompanied by very, very smart people, particularly George Shultz. They were a team that was working very well. And I am very pleased that we met, that as two top leaders of our countries we were able to take the most important positions and to work together with others. So from the very start, my attitude toward him was very serious. Also, I understood that on our side too, far from everything was right. Both in terms of ideology and policy and in terms of practical negotiation and the practical business of politics. Not everything was right on our side. And I could not have any intention of upstaging President Reagan because I saw that it was because of the inertia of our old leaders. Brezhnev was ill, Andropov was ill, Chernenko was ill... that many problems accumulated. So the first term of President Reagan, he was not quite lucky on that score. And therefore, again, I did not have any kind of (inaudible) intention...negative intention toward President Reagan. Of course, my impression, and I make no secret of that, was that...and is...that this is a very conservative person. He was very much on the right of the Republican party. And many Americans said that beyond President Reagan, to the right of President Reagan, is just the fringe. And that makes it even more important that we were able to work together.

On Relations with Ronald Reagan

Well, I would say that in the beginning the rapport was not working. We were accusing each other and were acting as kind of prosecutors toward the other side. And we had a lot to say in that respect. And it was at that time that I said, rather emotionally, and I would say, with conviction and quite sincerely, I said, "Mr. President, let us not...let us not do this. Don't try to give me that kind of bunk. I am well informed. If you are convinced that the United States is the shining city on the hill, don't think that I will agree that there are no problems in your country. We know that you have great accomplishments, but we know that you have problems. So let us talk realistically," I said. Those first little tiffs, they really were there. We had a lot to say to criticize Soviet policies and I had a lot of criticism, too. And then I said, "Good, OK, have we come here in order just to read to each other the list of accusations? People are expecting something different." And this feeling that the world was waiting, that after the six years when there had been no summit contacts between Soviet and American leaders, that was very, very much present. That the world was waiting. That the world was the third character in that discussion. The world was waiting. The world wouldn't have forgiven us if after these tremendous years of worry... years of tremendous worry about what was happening, about the flight in to the abyss, well, we could not have left Geneva without saying something that would give people hope. And I think this happened when at the end of the, not at the end but during the summit, at one of the meetings during the summit. We really had a good handshake across the table. But that too, did not produce immediately agreement on the Joint Communiqué. The President was under tremendous pressure. There was that famous leak of the letter written by Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense, containing a lot of warnings to the President from the Secretary of Defense. So the President was under tremendous pressure. I came with the authority to agree to a Joint Communiqué, to a short joint statement, so I had more room for maneuver. But then, in the process of negotiations, and the process of talks and dinners that we had that were involving not only the two of us, but also our delegations and our wives, eventually the human rapport and human atmosphere evolved. I cannot give you a moment or a day when it happened. But probably closer to the end of the meeting, we had a feeling that we are in better contact, that we can look at things, talk things more quietly, more solidly. And then when it happened that we were waiting for our Ministers to produce some papers, we spent about an hour together with the President in a small room, just talking. It just happened accidentally. But nevertheless, in that little cell, almost a kind of jail cell in which we were confined, we walked about. We talked and something emerged which would eventually produce a partnership.

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

Who was your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Kennedy? Reagan? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?

  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH