Gorbachev on Afghanistan: 'Move Toward Withdrawing'

The following is an edited transcript of an interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, the last ruler of the Soviet Union, conducted by Steve LeVine, BusinessWeek's foreign affairs writer in Washington.

Is the financial crisis a comeuppance for the West, for the U.S.?I believe so.

Did the U.S. deserve that comeuppance?I already answered yes.

There is concern that some of the former Warsaw Pact countries that are now part of the European Union could fall out of the EU because their economies are in such trouble. What is your advice on this situation?First of all, the European Union, of which these countries are part, should use its possibilities to the maximum extent possible. They do have the potential to help these countries. I believe that our country would not evade its share [of responsibility].

Germany and France have strongly opposed direct financial assistance to the former Warsaw Pact countries. They recommend that the IMF provide the assistance. What is your view?I think it's important that the European Union sorts these things out. The primary responsibility, of course, lies with those countries themselves. They were not pushed into the European Union. They decided themselves to become members. Or maybe they should go apart. I understand that under European Union statutes, countries can leave and they can be expelled. But that would be the worst possible outcome.

Is the concern of them falling out of the EU realistic or alarmist?I don't think, frankly, that this is a practical possibility. In the end they will find a way to address these issues.

In Moscow, [former U.S. Secretary of State] James Baker said this week that, unlike what is said frequently in Russia, the U.S. never promised you not to expand NATO into former Warsaw Bloc countries. He said that you actually agreed to the expansion. Your response?They made a statement that NATO would not extend further to the East. They said not one meter to the East. That's what they said. Maybe when they say one meter, they mean 1,000 kilometers.

Was that [President George H. W.] Bush or Jim Baker who promised?It was Bush. It was Jim Baker. It was [German Chancellor Helmut] Kohl. The Germans and the Americans said that.

I have a question on Afghanistan……You need to move toward withdrawing.

Immediately?My emphasis would be on the political approach.

Withdraw and then launch talks for a political resolution?First we should reemphasize the political approach. It is clear that the current approach will not produce a solution in Afghanistan. I would say this is again a kind of comeuppance for the United States. Who created the Taliban? Saudi Arabia financed it with the political support of the United States. By the way, Saddam Hussein, too, became the leader of Iraq with support from the United States. So when we look for the reasons, we have to bear this in mind. The current approach needs to be reviewed. This also concerns Iraq and other places.

Can Prime Minister Putin and/or President Medvedev play an effective mediating role between the U.S. and Iran?That's something you need to discuss with them. But as far as I know, their position is that the United States should first address the need for normalizing relations with Iran. It's part of one big problem—Iran, Israel, Syria. It is one knot of problems. If you start a process that would show a new approach, a new responsibility, I believe that with time a way out of this situation will be found. But of course there will be people who want to play by the old book, who say: "We cannot cede any piece of land; we will continue to apply pressure; we will not allow those people to be important in the Middle East; we don't want them to be relevant in the energy equation."

Is this a historic moment like it was for the Soviet Union in 1989—a moment when the U.S. economic way is over, and as you have described it, we will have a hybrid of the free market and socialism?There is no doubt that we need a new type of economic governance in the world. They have been working on the basis of principles developed almost a century ago. I think there will no longer be one country like the United States or a group of countries, as it has been, making all the decisions. There can be no Politburo in the world now. It is not like you make those shoes for athletes, thousands of miles from the States, on the basis of U.S. technology. You have to account for the differences between countries based not only on their economies, but on their cultures, on their different levels of development. In conclusion, right now both the United States and the world are facing a very big challenge, and a lot depends on how the U.S. will meet that challenge.

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