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Baker Visits Shevardnadze--It’s ‘the Old Team,’ They Agree

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Secretary of State James A. Baker III, not generally known as a sentimental man, made a sentimental side trip Saturday to visit an old and valued friend: former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.

“Ah, the old team,” Shevardnadze beamed as Baker came in the door of his small, 7th-floor apartment in one of Moscow’s elite neighborhoods.

“That’s right,” Baker said, grinning broadly. “The old team.”

For almost two years, Baker and Shevardnadze worked together in trying to improve U.S.-Soviet relations.

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Together, they declared an end to the Cold War, midwifed the unification of Germany, joined in a great-power coalition to oppose Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait--and, according to officials on both sides, became genuine friends.

But Shevardnadze’s willingness to compromise with the West brought him under heavy fire from hard-line Soviet Communists. After President Mikhail S. Gorbachev shifted his own stance to side increasingly with the conservatives, Shevardnadze angrily resigned, warning that the Soviet Union was on a path to dictatorship.

So on Saturday, instead of meeting in the ornate conference rooms of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Baker and Shevardnadze met on a brown leather couch in a modest Moscow living room with the smell of a pot of soup wafting in from the kitchen.

Now, Shevardnadze has launched a privately funded Foreign Policy Assn. to give the Soviet Union the same kind of independent “think tank” that Western countries have had for years.

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Baker gave him a friendly plug, saying: “I think it’s an excellent idea. My friend here is still held in high regard by the foreign policy community around the world, and I think he and his association can make a significant contribution.”

“This question was at my request,” Shevardnadze joked.

Asked about his warning against dictatorship, Shevardnadze said: “I still fear it. . . . There is still this danger. The president has also said that if we do not accomplish what we’ve set out to do, there will be chaos in the country. And how does one put an end to chaos?”

“I believe that the most important thing today, for both the leadership and the people of the Soviet Union, is to support the process of democratization,” he said. “It would be terribly damaging for the country and for the world if we permitted any backsliding in that process.”

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But he said he was optimistic that “courageous new people” would press for continued reform.

“I have more time on my hands now,” he said cheerfully, “so I talk to many people--and I am seeing how many interesting people there are in this country.”


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