GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: What do you see ahead in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf? What are the prospects for a broader peace there?
EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE: I think that relatively favorable conditions have arisen for resolving all the Middle East problems. This means resolving the main, most sensitive problem - the Arab-Israeli conflict. We also should push on to other problems: forming security structures, building new relations among states, pursuing realistic arms reductions, turning the region into a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, especially chemical weapons.However, I am already worried by the present pause, this hiatus, (now that) the hot wave of violence is over. It is highly important that U.S. Secretary of State (James) Baker made his trip to the Middle East this month. It was useful and he returned with interesting ideas. But, the process of dialogue and negotiations is not progressing. It is highly important to preserve the momentum while all the impressions and horrors of war are still fresh, when people are asking, "Where are the guarantees that tomorrow another conflict won't start?"
The region is oversaturated with weapons, and the danger of war persists. Therefore, it is very important that we act now in a more dynamic fashion and go on the offensive. This is the period to show determination and courage.
It is quite important that President Bush repeated the important formula of exchanging territory for peace and expressed his support for it. This is of great consequence, and it is a good foundation for serious dialogue.
If we don't go ahead with (an international peace) conference, then let's proceed on a bilateral basis, or use intermediaries to force the opposing sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict to renounce mutual non-recognition and stop ignoring other forces, including the Palestine Liberation Organization. If we do not act, the dialogue will never start.
Apart from political and diplomatic activities of the secretary of state and president of the United States, and of the Soviet leadership, I would like to stress the special role the U.N. Security Council could play.
What has been done during the crisis in the Persian Gulf is a unique experience - I would even call it a bequest to humankind. This experience should be added to our diplomatic arsenal.
We have been saying for a long time that the Middle East needs a very authoritative politician to facilitate the initiation of dialogue, maybe in the form of a permanent representative of the U.N. secretary general.
Also, what prevents us from starting consultations among the permanent members of the Security Council to look for a common approach, to enter into a dialogue with the Israelis, with the Palestinians - both those who are living in the occupied lands and those who are operating outside those territories - and with other Arab states?
I would not reject the idea of President Francois Mitterrand of France, who proposed convening the Security Council on these issues at the level of heads of state. In addition, Soviet diplomacy can now make a weighty contribution to all problems in the Middle East because we have very good relations with many Arab countries.
I must say, though - for the first time since I am a free man now - we Soviets have unnecessarily limited our opportunities for diplomacy in the Middle East.
I personally regret failing to bring the problem of normalizing relations with Israel to a logical end. We, of course, took into account the thinking of some of our friends, the PLO and some others, in not doing so. I think now, though, that a new stage is beginning when even our Arab friends should understand that this normalization of Soviet-Israeli relations is dictated by the times.
If the Soviet Union takes this step now, then the opportunities for interaction between the Soviet Union and the United States and others, especially the permanent members of the Security Council, will significantly widen.
VIEWPOINT: How close are American and Soviet views on the future? Can you see a return to their international rivalry?
SHEVARDNADZE: (During my tenure as foreign minister) we talked a lot - in Wyoming, at Lake Baikal in Siberia, in Houston, at Camp David - and thought a lot about strategic stability.
The degree and reliability of strategic stability depends first of all on Soviet-American relations and, ahead of everything else, on their mutual understanding. In other words, we must, as I see it, conduct serious dialogue not only on the reduction of existing arms, we must also discuss seriously - and we shall need an atmosphere of trust for this - the level of armaments we really need to guarantee the security of our own countries and that of our neighbors and allies.
For this reason, the United States and the Soviet Union have to build an edifice of trust and mutual respect. We will have to undergo difficult and complex tests, and we have to exercise the utmost care, especially when it concerns the declarations of political leaders.
VIEWPOINT: How do you see your role as head of the Soviet Foreign Policy Association? What political role do you wish to play?
SHEVARDNADZE: First, I want to express my opinions openly and be sure the opinions of those who share similar views are expressed. I want to continue studying the various international problems in the framework of this association.
Of course, this will not determine the political weather. But I believe we in the Soviet Union must finally learn this culture of communication and become accustomed to the existence of an opposition or alternative opinions. We must learn to take this as an absolutely normal phenomenon in a civilized state.
That's the mission: to facilitate political debate and deal with foreign policy questions. I am not going to stand in opposition to the (Soviet) foreign ministry or become a rival.
In addition, I would dearly love to help on economic matters, where we have no real schools of thought, such as entrepreneurship and privatization. A year ago, people had great difficulty uttering these words, even in a Politburo session. Pluralism, I can tell you, did not extend that high.
991, Los Angeles Times
Distributed by L.A. Times Syndicate