Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said on Saturday that the openness shown at the Soviet Communist Party Conference could herald an era of confusion and turmoil in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

"I think that what we are witnessing is the beginning of a period of great confusion in the Soviet Union and a period of turmoil in Eastern Europe, which I believe will be the biggest foreign policy problem we will face in the next administration," Kissinger said on the Cable News Network television program "Newsmaker" Saturday.The open debate and heated arguments shown daily at last week's Communist Party Conference in Moscow were not necessarily signs of a new freedom in the Soviet Union, Kissinger said.

"I ask myself, in part, are we witnessing here an exercise in democracy or are we witnessing a purge of the opponents of (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev, this time by a method that is different from the one they've used before, and I think it's a combination of both," he said.

Kissinger, who was Secretary of State under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, said the Communist conference also showed that while Gorbachev has opponents, he is firmly in control in the Soviet Union.

"Gorbachev has a major impact, as you would expect, on the party and . . . he is using this to get rid of the old guard," Kissinger said.

He said Gorbachev's plans for the Soviet future may be difficult to achieve.