WASHINGTON -- President Bush, who three months ago called for tearing down all physical barriers that divide Europe, now flatly predicts the Berlin Wall will be dismantled during his presidency.
His comments, the latest sign that Washington expects dramatic changes in the East Berlin regime in the near future, came as thousands of East Germans wait in Hungary for a possible deal between Bonn and Budapest that would allow them to emigrate to West Germany through Austria.
Three times during an interview with British journalist David Frost, the President said he expects the heavily guarded wall, which has divided Berlin since the East Germans constructed it in 1961, to be torn down.
Recalling his visit to Budapest in July when he was presented with a symbolic snippet of wire representing the barbed-wire barrier that separated Hungary and Austria before it was dismantled, Bush said he found the ceremony "so moving."
"And yes," he added, "that Berlin Wall will come down." Asked if he thought it would happen during his term as President, he responded affirmatively.
His prediction, made in an interview recorded last week for a one-hour show that will air on public television stations tonight, coincides with a statement Sunday by Vernon A. Walters, U.S. ambassador to West Germany, that he can "foresee a united Germany in the near future."
A videocassette and a transcript of the interview, which was recorded on a patio outside Bush's home in Kennebunkport, Me., where the President ended a three-week vacation Monday, were made available here by David Paradine Television Inc., which produced the program. First Lady Barbara Bush also was interviewed for part of the show.
The President, in an overall assessment of U.S. foreign relations that was generally optimistic, praised Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev as someone whose word he trusts and who appears to be in no danger of ouster despite severe economic problems in the Soviet Union and serious problems encountered by Gorbachev's reform programs.
Bush's views contrast sharply with those of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who four months ago said he believed Gorbachev would fail in his efforts at political and economic reform and might be replaced by someone hostile to the United States.
More recently, Cheney told a veterans' group that the Soviet threat has not diminished, that "if anything, the United States is facing a more formidable offensive strategic arsenal today."
Addressing the drug crisis in Colombia and the escalating problems of drugs in the United States, the President said he would not rule out sending troops to that country if requested by Colombian officials, but they have made no such request.
He recalled that as a presidential candidate last year he "talked of the possibility of the U.S. helping a country that didn't have the military means to go in there and wipe out some of these factories of death."
But he indicated that since becoming President, his thinking has changed and he is more guarded in addressing such matters and "very sensitive to the sovereign rights, in this instance, of the state of Colombia."
Vowed to 'Try My Hardest'
The anti-narcotics fight must be won, said Bush, who Tuesday night will outline a new anti-drug strategy in a televised address to the nation. He vowed to "try my hardest, my best, to mobilize the nation."
Contemplative and at times philosophical during the interview with Frost, Bush said he has not found the presidency lonely but hastened to add that he hasn't "been tested by fire--been through hell in this job."
By the time he finishes his presidency, he said, he hopes he hasn't had "to reach out for understanding about 'the loneliest job in the world' because it is too fulfilling and . . . you get too many good people helping and sharing the problems and trying to take the problems off your shoulders to feel that you need, what I would say, self-pity."
In the interview--dominated by foreign affairs--Bush also said that he:
-- Disagrees with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that revenge is always wrong. He said there is "clearly" a case for retribution against terrorists--and if there is a further escalation of state-sponsored terrorism against Americans. "the United States will not and must not be impotent."
-- Believes it would help things "a great deal" in South Africa if Frederik W. de Klerk, in one of his first acts upon formally assuming the presidency after the Sept. 6 parliamentary elections, were to free political prisoner Nelson R. Mandela. "And I've heard good things about Mr. De Klerk . . . but you need something like freeing Mandela, the world needs it."
-- Wants to see Japan redouble its efforts to permit fair trade and free access to their markets but does not want to see discriminatory impulses by some Americans push Japan into "a reinvigorated militance."
-- Would welcome restoring diplomatic relations with Iran, but "as long as Americans are held hostage--and from time to time their officials make statements indicating they have some control over that situation--then that's got to change dramatically, before there can be the kind of relations that I personally would like to see."
-- Hopes that China could revert to business as usual "pretty soon" even though relations with the United States and other Western countries remained strained because of the way the Chinese government crushed the pro-democracy demonstrations and has invoked repressive measures against dissidents.
Bush, in answer to a question, said he was a great believer in person-to-person diplomacy and had found Gorbachev "open and reform-minded."
"Do you trust his word?" Frost asked.
No Reason to Fault Gorbachev
"I would say so far in our relations with Mr. Gorbachev, previous administration and this, he has tried very hard to fulfill any undertakings that he has made," Bush said. "And that's how you make a judgment. So I think that he's working to keep his word. I have no reason to fault him on his word."
During the interview, both Frost and the President wore dark sweaters over open-collar shirts as they sat on a patio outside Bush's home overlooking the Atlantic.
Frost, using a chatty conversational method rather than adversarial questioning to draw out Bush, laughingly referred to the President as "Mr. Smooth," the nickname Bush has given himself. He said the name came from "throwing a smooth horseshoe, yeah, it's a phenomenal shoe, actually. I'm not very good in horseshoes, but we've had more fun with that game for the last four or five years. All the kids can play it, they all have the same arrogance factor as their grandfather, or their dad, and it's a great family sport."
The President offered a spirited defense for both Vice President Dan Quayle, whose selection as his running mate and performance in office have been widely criticized, and Republican Party Chairman Lee Atwater, whom Democrats have accused of dirty tactics.
Frost, noting that when Bush was vice president, polls showed his approval rating 8 to 10 points behind President Ronald Reagan while current polls show Quayle running 20 to 25 points behind Bush, asked whether this was a reflection on Quayle.
Don't Care What Polls Say
"It's a reflection, I guess, on the fact that they may not yet know the ability of Dan Quayle as I know it," he said. "And I couldn't care less what a poll says right now. . . . I'll say people don't yet understand what I understand. That he's a very able man and he's a team player and I made a good selection, and I'm glad he's doing his job."
Frost told Bush, "We know you want 'a kinder, gentler nation,' but have you told Lee Atwater. . . . "
Interrupting, the President declared: "He's a kind and gentle kind of fellow. He's the kind of fellow that Democrats love to hurt, love to go after. Do you know why? Because he's getting in their knickers. He's getting to them. And they're saying Democrats leave the Democratic party, and join the Republican Party. So what do they do? They blame Atwater."
Describing Atwater as "an able political operative," Bush said, "the Democrats are eating their hearts out because they don't have the same ability in that Democratic National Committee anywhere."
Mrs. Bush, reminded that in 1984 she had said that if she were ever in the White House she would be like "a caged animal," said, "I thought that, but it's not true. I just love it. I do a lot of things there. . . . I feel very spoiled, but I swim a mile a day at the White House, I walk Millie (the Bushes' spaniel) every day. I had puppies--something I always wanted to do. I don't feel caged at all."
She said she thinks people like her because "I don't threaten anybody. I don't make any big decisions, I'm trying to say this nicely so I won't hurt my own feelings. But, I mean, no Marilyn Monroe am I. I'm just not a threat to anybody. I like people. And I feel for them. "