Ex-Chancellor Schmidt Sizes Up Leaders in Candid Memoirs

Associated Press

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter sat down with Helmut Schmidt and asked the West German chancellor how they could work together to bring down the Berlin Wall.

"Then, I realized how little my counterpart understood of the situation in a divided Europe and the power of the Soviet Union and its interests," Schmidt writes about Carter in his memoirs.

The former chancellor said that when the President asked him about joint U.S.-West German action to get rid of the wall, "Amazed, I asked him back: 'How, in which way?' "

He said Carter's reply was: "I thought you had perhaps a recipe for it."

"Naturally, neither I nor anyone else in the West had a recipe," Schmidt writes.

Later, he writes that the question showed Carter's "naivete."

Schmidt's book, "Menschen und Maechte," (People and Powers), currently tops the best-seller lists in West Germany.

The book contains candid views of virtually all leading politicians of the last quarter century. Here are some of Schmidt's views of world leaders:

--"(The late Soviet leader) Leonid Brezhnev was a Russian with all the qualities that we usually attribute to Russians: strength, the ability to hold a drink, hospitality, sentimentality, warmth, generosity." But, at the same time, Brezhnev could be "mistrustful toward strangers whose position was unclear," and showed, "when necessary, even brutality."

--Former President Gerald R. Ford: "Under his presidency, the United States became, from Bonn's point of view, a more predictable and reliable partner and leader of the Atlantic Alliance . . . . Ford never surprised me with one-sided decisions taken without consultation."

--"(President) Reagan has an astounding ability to talk to his countrymen exactly how they talk among each other . . . . With Reagan, Americans had the instinctive feeling that 'he is one of us, we can trust him."'

--Japan's Yasuhiro Nakasone: "Washington believed in Nakasone's pro-American position. His pro-American position is indeed genuine, but is really just a means to an end, namely, to regain the position of power fitting to Japan's greatness and historical tradition."

Schmidt, a Social Democrat and leader of the West German government from 1974 to 1982, discusses his experiences dealing with the "alternating hot and cold showers" that he says have marked U.S. foreign policy with each recent change in the presidency.

"In the sense of current European understanding, one could call the international politics of the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger era middle of the road. Carter led a 90-degree change to the left, and Reagan a 180-degree change to the right," Schmidt wrote.

Henry A. Kissinger was secretary of state under both former President Richard M. Nixon and Ford.

Schmidt, who will be 69 on Dec. 23, no longer holds office.

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