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Foe to Friend: Former Secretary of State Baker on Eduard Shevardnadze

VOA's Vivian Chakarian interviews James A. Baker on July 10, 2014
VOA's Vivian Chakarian interviews James A. Baker on July 10, 2014

James Baker, U.S. Secretary of State at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, spoke with VOA July 10 about the recent death of Eduard Shevardnadze, foreign minister of the Soviet Union at the time of its collapse. Baker praised Shevardnadze as “one of the true architects of a peaceful end to the Cold War.”

When they first met, the two men were the top foreign policy officials of the two most powerful nations of the world. Baker said they started out as adversaries who sat “across from each other at big tables and in effect shouted at each other.” But the relationship between the one-time adversaries, he added, slowly developed into friendship and “genuine affection.”

Baker said Shevardnadze’s principal achievement is that he and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev refused to use force to keep the Soviet empire together. “This,” he said, “permitted millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe and in former republics….to experience freedom and opportunity and democracy…and I think that’s quite a legacy.”

Baker alluded briefly to Shevardnadze’s career as president of Georgia, which ended in 2003 when he was forced out of office on charges of corruption, saying nothing he did, or didn’t do, as Georgia’s leader can diminish what he did in his role as the last foreign minister of the Soviet Union. He said he was confident that history will treat both him and Mikhail Gorbachev “very, very well.”

Baker also spoke of Voice of America’s role at the end of the Cold War, saying VOA “enabled [the United States] to get our message out to many, many people around the world.”

The former Secretary of State spoke with VOA from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, a day before he planned to travel to Tbilisi, Georgia, for Shevardnadze’s funeral on Sunday, July 13. His interview with VOA was broadcast in Georgia on IMEDI TV, one of the country’s leading private stations and an affiliate of VOA’s Georgian Service.