EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE: Naturally, the Americans and the U.S. administration play a tremendous role in the world, and this cannot be denied. But there are certain points that cause anxiety. Although I won't mention names, they sometimes say things like, "America is the leader of the struggle for democracy; the creator of the new world order; the entire world looks up with hope to the United States," and so on and so forth.

Well, I recall my years as a very youthful official, when I delivered speeches, in the early '50s, declaring that the Soviet Union was the beacon for all humankind, that the whole world is following in our tracks, that we were the fountain of ideas of freedom, democracy and so forth. (Laughing) Sometimes, I look with shame at my past activities.It is true that in World War II we had something to be proud of, and even now we speak with pride of our decisive role. But it seems to me that in subsequent stages we should have displayed more modesty. Of course, no one will rival America in its status of a superpower with a strong economy and considerable military strength. But is there not a lesson here?

There is something else about this Pax Americana. It is good that finally we broke through psychological barriers and are resolving the military confrontation between East and West. However, now, to intimidate people, to frighten the world by pointing to the Soviet Union as still retaining the military potential and even desire and saying that the threat is not yet eliminated and that America should maintain all its military capability. I think these expressions should be used with far greater caution.

VIEWPOINT: Soviet foreign policy has become a major domestic political issue. The treaty with the United States on the Bering Sea, the agreement on reducing conventional armed forces in Europe, the treaties on German unification - all have been questioned here. How did foreign policy become so controversial in Soviet politics?

SHEVARDNADZE: What is happening concerning foreign policy is not only criticism. Criticism is a quite normal state of affairs. America has similar debates - and not all decisions by Mr. Bush are applauded. Ministers can be criticized. But this is about one of the reasons why I decided to resign. When the talk was no longer criticism but attacks, charges, insults and pure slanders, I found this form of protest. Others might use other methods, perhaps parliamentary struggle.

Just recall how many personal accusations (of having sold out Soviet interests) I had to endure concerning the German treaties and German reunification. Some protested and voted against, others went much further. But logic is logic, and normal people will understand that, sooner or later, this was the only peaceful policy alternative we had that was justified, objective and profitable for us in terms of our national interests and objective and just for the German nation.

Some dilettantes are now attacking this agreement with the United States on the Bering Straits (demarcating the boundary between the two countries), but what shall we do - declare war on America? For at least a decade, these negotiations had gone on, and we could have dragged them on longer. But this is a rather dangerous spot because we could have armed clashes there. We sought to remove all potential sources of danger and threats to stability and to establish normal relations between our countries.

The (Communist Party's) Politburo approved it, and today's president, as the party's general secretary, voted for it - as did the prime minister. Yet, everybody is now silent. Funny that.

VIEWPOINT: Why are they now silent? Are they afraid of the conservatives? This goes to the question of how Soviet foreign policy became so controversial and can the West trust the agreements it concludes with the Soviet leadership.

SHEVARDNADZE: It's a reflection of what is happening in this country. They (the conservative critics) want to demonstrate that perestroika was begun and pursued by incompetent people, that they consistently made concessions and yielded ground. And it was not only inside the country that they led the state toward catastrophe, but also in foreign policy, through an incompetent, unprofessional approach. But who is making these charges? Dilettantes, unprofessional people, people with a rather dim perception of these matters, people who are incapable of sorting things into first and second priorities.

VIEWPOINT: When you resigned, you warned about the coming dangers, especially that of a dictatorship, a reactionary takeover. How do you see the situation in the Soviet Union? What prospects does it have for emerging from its crises?

SHEVARDNADZE: To say that the situation is difficult is almost to say nothing. We always say, "Difficulties exist only to be overcome." That is a Bolshevik maxim.

But the situation is most complicated now. It is difficult economically - and this causes tremendous social tensions. People are tired, and one must have pity for them. We have discovered a lot of our own mistakes - ones that we have made in perestroika - and we must remember we had the catastrophic inheritance and we failed to resolve everything over these years. Add to this, the ethnic problems are heating up the situation further. And now the political situation is degenerating into confrontation. All this is happening against a background of very difficult developments within society.

We should have worked out our position on many issues much earlier, when we were at a much higher level of everything. But we simply did not know what had to be done or how it should be done. How should we move to a market economy? For the fifth year, we are debating this subject.

These processes are very slow, very painful. Now, the most important thing is to achieve economic stabilization. Perhaps we are not doing everything in the most educated way and we are making hasty decisions.

Still, I think there is an opportunity to emerge from this situation if we manage to consolidate all healthy forces. But we have not yet learned this ability to draw together all the people with progressive mentality.

So far, there are no clear signs that we shall be able to improve this political atmosphere. But I still think the leading forces, the leading players are capable of guiding us toward this.

VIEWPOINT: Did your resignation have the impact you wanted as a warning about the danger of dictatorship, the resurgence of the right? Have the democrats, whom you accused of fleeing to "the bushes," come out?

SHEVARDNADZE: To a certain degree, it did. Such political actions cannot be statistically evaluated or analyzed with scientific precision. You can, of course, undertake a political analysis, and in a few years the impact will be clear. Even now, however, I can feel that, yes, people were put on alert. That was my primary motive.

VIEWPOINT: What is your relationship now with President Gorbachev? Was your resignation a break with him?

SHEVARDNADZE: I don't have this attitude - break with Gorbachev, break with (Russian President Boris N.) Yeltsin, break with (conservative Russian Communist Party leader Ivan K.) Polozkov. I have normal relations with everyone - including the president. The day before yesterday, on his initiative, we met and, for 21/2 hours, we sat and discussed a lot of issues. I maintain relations with everyone else on the same basis.

VIEWPOINT: What must President Gorbachev do to recover the momentum, the vision, that perestroika had at the beginning?

SHEVARDNADZE: I think he understands what needs to be done. That is: more active support of democratic forces, of the democratic movement, more active, more courageous support. If one does not have strong enough a political basis, it is difficult, I understand. But if the democratic forces were to consolidate, then he could. However, he cannot renounce his collaboration with the conservatives because, among the conservatives, the majority are quite decent people who are concerned about their state and their nation. But democracy needs more active support.

Secondly, no matter how difficult it is, the top priority for the president - he, himself - must be to establish a dialogue with all the leaders in the republics. He does have constructive, businesslike, comradely relations with many of them. But there is the central issue of Russia. I think that the two presidents, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, must achieve agreement on perestroika, on democratization and on improvement of the economy. This, clearly, is very difficult when public statements have been made, when the struggle proceeds and when each man has his own supporters.

I think I can make this comparison. I remember when we started the dialogue with President Reagan, he had this favorite phrase, the "evil empire." Thus, the dialogue was not simple to start, and there were not only difficult moments but difficult hours. Yet, we all showed enough wisdom and desire to find a common language, and finally we managed to achieve that first courageous treaty. We were different states, different political and economic systems, but we managed to find consensus.

Why, in the very same country, when the country faces difficult crises, can't these two men find common language - no matter how difficult it may be? I would recommend they both forget all their umbrage, drop all the mistakes and difficulties, their pasts. They should sit down for 10 days, for one month - I'd lock them up together (laughing) until they were agreed.

In the international arena, we have become civilized people and give priority to politics over force, and this has brought us the greatest success in world affairs and we are talking about, now, construction of a new world order. I am fully convinced that, in our country, we should stick to the same general line and seek mutual understanding and resolve all problems through political means - first of all, in direct contacts.

1991, Los Angeles Times

Distributed by L.A. Times Syndicate