A Contrast

Author: Gary Hart

The first week of December 1986, I met with Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin for almost four hours.  It was toward the end of his first full year in office and less then 60 days from his Reykjavic summit with Ronald Reagan.  He had yet to become acquainted with members of the Democratic party and especially those representing a new generation of leadership.  In 1984, I had been runner-up for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, and the Russian Embassy in Washington believed I would be a candidate again, and possibly a successful one, in 1988.

Mr. Gorbachev was congenial, relaxed, but curious.  He graciously invited my daughter Andrea, then studying U.S.-Russian relations at the University of Denver, to join our conversation.  Former Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Dobrynen, whom I knew well joined the conversation as did Doug Wilson, my foreign policy advisor and former State Department official.

Much of the conversation revolved around Mr. Gorbachev’s confusion at Reykjavic and thereafter.  The summit was not considered a success as much as anything because of a pattern by President Reagan of seeming to agree to bold nuclear arms reductions and confidence building measures and then, after consultation with his staff, reversing himself.

As he was headed to a final press conference, President Gorbachev turned to his Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and said: “It is a disaster.”  Shevardnadze responded: “But you cannot say that”.  Gorbachev turned the huge disappointment into the theme that “much work remains to be done”.

Poignantly, toward the end of this long session, Mr. Gorbachev asked me who I thought they should deal with in the U.S. Administration.  Without saying as much, he clearly was searching for a back channel with whom they could communicate to overcome our president’s vagueness and forgetfulness.

Having disqualified myself as a member of the opposition party, I did say that Secretary of State George Schultz struck me and others as being steady, reasonable, and diplomatic.  I have been led to believe that arrangement may have been made.  At no point did I denigrate our president.  And upon return we delivered Doug’s copious notes to our State Department.

Aside from Reykjavic, President Gorbachev went into great detail about his plans for perestroika and reforms of Russia’s economic system and the loosening of the political system under glasnost.  He was extraordinarily candid about the hurdles he faced and why good relations and arms control with the U.S. was crucial to his sweeping agenda.

At shorter length, I tried to summarize the reforms I hoped to bring about in America in making the revolutions in globalization and information lift those left out of our economy and reiterated my life-long commitment to nuclear arms reduction.

To the outsider, tone, mood, and atmosphere in high level international meetings seem overrated.  But they are not.  They are important to the formation of trust and friendship.  Even if he considered my challenge for the presidency a long shot, he nevertheless treated me seriously.  By this time I had experienced enough high level diplomacy in the Middle East and elsewhere to know how to behave, to treat national leaders with dignity and respect, and, at the same time, defend my country’s interests forthrightly.

Based upon his performance in Helsinki, others must judge whether Donald Trump met that standard.  As stunningly off key as it was, it will never enter the history books as successful diplomacy.  At the very least, it is powerful evidence that we should never send amateurs into the international diplomatic arena.  Buying and selling real estate is insufficient training for the diplomatic amphitheater.  High level international diplomacy requires special talents which in this case seem to be missing.

Since, in the long run, there are no secrets in these matters, the real mystery of Helsinki is in the two-hour unrecorded Putin-Trump meeting.  Behind a smoke screen of “fake news”, that is where the truth of Helsinki and perhaps Trump himself is revealed.

Mr. Trump may or may not have been taking care of his own interests, but manifestly he was not taking care of the interests of the United States.

The only time I had a secret meeting with a head of state, was previously in the summer of 1986 in the upstairs study of His Majesty King Hussein’s summer palace in Aqaba.  He revealed to me that he had been having secret meetings with Israel’s then Prime Minister Shimon Perez to explore a peace agreement.  He asked for my help.  Upon return a few days later to the U.S. I went immediately to the Department of State to brief Secretary Schultz.  Alas, the Reagan Administration did nothing to support those negotiations.

U.S. Presidents can do great damage to our nation’s interests, as well as global stability, if they don’t know what they are doing.  We received ample evidence of that this week.

17 Responses to “A Contrast”

  1. Anna V. Says:

    Agree, after 20years of experience at the Italian Embassy in Moscow)


    Even the comedy of Trump, the saving element for me, was amiss here in these appearances of Trump. It needs to be funny or otherwise is too dark.

    The loyalty of this President is being questioned. Senators like our host, are rare, but some commentators of worth are wondering who this man is for…even on ….Fox News!!!!!!!!!!11

  3. Gary Hart Says:

    My friend and former staff member, Doug Wilson, suggests that the description of my private meeting with the late King Hussein not be described as “secret” so as not to compare it to the recent Putin-Trump meeting. It is a significant point. There was and is no comparison. As indicated, I reported immediately to the Secretary of State the full discussion and urged Reagan administration support for the peace initiative. GH

  4. Neil McCarthy Says:

    However the meeting with the late King Hussein is described (and I agree with Doug Wilson’s advice), the meeting was not only immediately reported to the State Department (then being run by the reporter’s opposition party), the notes of the meeting taken by Doug Wilson were turned over to the State Department. Has the transcipt of Trump’s meeting with Putin been turned over to the State Department? If not, it should be and, in view of what has transpired publicly this week, it should then be shown to Congress (and to both parties, not just the GOP members), if necessary on a confidential basis.

    The enormous problem here is that Trump cannot be at all trusted in his reporting, and the information coming out of his meeting with Putin is disturbing to say the least. It was reported yesterday that Trump felt Putin’s “offer” to have Russian investigators cooperate with Mueller in exchange for Russia being able to question former Amb. McCaul, and also in exchange for being able to question David Browder, was made in good faith. That is scary. A former Ambassador should never be forced to talk to them, and their case against Browder has been determined to be entirely political. Russia is not a democratic country governed by the rule of law; it is a kleptocracy governed by ex-Communists in league with oligarchs (themselves often ex-Communists) who looted the nation to acquire their wealth in the wake of the break up of the Soviet Union. Their President is a former-KGB operative and there are no credible opposition parties; indeed, opponents are often dealt with the old-fashioned KGB way, they are killed. The country has invaded and seized territory of an independent state, shot down a civilian air plane, and poisoned and either killed or attempted to kill opponents in Britain. The notion that Trump would serioulsy entertain Putin’s “offer” is more than laughable; it demonstrates the utter incompetence of America’s chief of state.

    Conservatives are wont these days to lament the so-called “deep state.” Well, at this point, they better pray that our state is “deep” enough to stop Trump from being Trump. The alternative is not pretty.

  5. Neil McCarthy Says:

    It occurs to me that I may have misspoke in my above comment. There were translators in the room when Trump and Putin had their private meeting this week. The American translator was a State Department employee named Marina Gross, so that department can presumably find out from her what was said. I do not know if Ms. Gross made a transcript of what transpired. That said, if there was only (on the American side) a translator and there is no transcript, the translator should be called before Congress to testify (if necessary in a confidential setting) on what was said by both Trump and Putin. If there is a transcript, that should be disclosed as well.

  6. Tom Gee Says:

    In light of the secrecy and confusion surrounding the Helsinki “summit,” it is perfectly reasonable for some to want the U.S. interpreter, the only person capable of the truth, to testify before a Congressional committee.

  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    So, no one here thinks that summit meeting was recorded!?

  8. Paul G Says:


    Messengers of political news for profit – ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC – have been doing damage to our republic for at least 3 decades, trumpeting sensation over substance. The shocking slide from highly credentialed presidential candidates to mere highly profitable incompetents seems to many to be a major threat to our 200+ years’ republic.

    For example:

    • Gary Hart’s 25 state wins in ’84 with little money led opponents to fear his ’88 election;

    • ‘Iron Lady’ advised President 40, to ignore USSR nuclear reduction ideas in ’86;

    • Gary’s meeting with Gorbachev led opponents to fear mutual $Trillion Peace Dividend;

    • Military-media hit Gary with knockout story (of grossly exaggerated campaign finances);

    • President 41 did not have what it takes to lead an enduring post-Cold War fraternity;

    • President 42 talked kindly but took a big stick to the poor while enriching the rich;

    • President 43 ignored pre-9/11 warnings, covered-up with unnecessary wars and tax cuts;

    • President 44 invoked Lincoln (cabinet 50% Bush and 50% Clinton) but he’s no Lincoln;

    • ‘Big Baby’ 45 real estate background is less preparation than it takes for the presidency;

    • As US Senator Hart, the once presidential frontrunner cited in 1987 by AP Wire Services, as a candidate “with unquestioned credentials to govern America,” blogged recently: “U.S. Presidents can do great damage to our nation’s interests, as well as global stability, if they don’t know what they are doing. We received ample evidence of that this week.”

    • Well, as the great communicator, President 40, might say; “Our messengers can do and did great damage too!”

  9. Gary Hart Says:

    Of course it was, Elizabeth, but not by the Americans. GH

  10. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    What about the Finnish hosts?

  11. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    And, why on earth not the American IC??

  12. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    I have another question that I can’t seem to shake … why, in view of the events of the last week alone, is it not appropriate to speak of the president’s treasonous behavior?

  13. Brian C. McCarthy Says:

    Senator, based on this and other writings of yours about your dealings, and intended dealings, with Premier Gorbachev, one can only wonder where roads not taken light have led. Many want to know what was said between Trump and Putin in private. I’m not among them. I can’t imagine anything inspiring, earth-shaking, or profound was said – one of them has no capacity for such words and the other’s cards are kept too close to the chest. I’d much rather sit down on my balcony one evening and read a transcript of your 1986 discussion with Mr Gorbachev. I suspect it would be far, far more illuminating and instructive than any conversation had in Finland this past week.

  14. Tom Gee Says:

    Now, top intelligence officer, a Republican and Trump appointee, says he does not know what was discussed. Enough said.

  15. Gary Hart Says:

    Mr. Trump cannot have it both ways. He cannot demand cessation of the Mueller investigation into Russian manipulation of American elections while holding secret meetings with the President of Russia. There may be a transcript of the secret meeting, but it will be in the hands of the FSB and thus remain a lever, at least, on Mr. Trump or, at worst, a gun at his head.

  16. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Trump can have it any way he wants.


    Elizabeth is saying what I said others are, Trump is trea…

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