Jim Baker Credits Gorbachev for Fall of Berlin Wall

Baker: More important than the 10-point plan was a conversation between Kohl, Bush and myself in February 1990 at Camp David. In this conversation, we discussed two fundamental issues: German unification -- and what it meant for NATO. Kohl assured us: "Germany doesn't want neutrality in any way. A united Germany will be a member of NATO." He gave us this binding commitment.

SPIEGEL: So you trusted him?

Baker: He gave us his word. We gave him ours. We had a really strong and seamless relationship.

SPIEGEL: Did you have an alternative, a Plan B?

Baker: Not for the United States. We all had been talking about unification for 40 years and when the chance came, the opportunity came to do it, we should have done it. And we did it. It would not have been feasible to walk away. We admired the fact that Kohl, like Bush and me, was a practitioner of realpolitik. This may end up as a matter of cash for the Russians, he told us at Camp David. "You've got deep pockets," President Bush observed, not altogether kiddingly.

SPIEGEL: The French and the British were not nearly as sympathetic.

Baker: They were both unenthusiastic. But with Kohl's promise of a united NATO Germany, we also succeeded in convincing the skeptical French and the reluctant British. They had doubts but were unable to present an alternative.

SPIEGEL: How close was the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and George Bush at that time?

Baker: We were close to Margaret, but not as close as she was to Reagan. President Reagan occasionally allowed her to speak for the United States. When Bush, who was vice president under Reagan, came into office, one of the first things he had to demonstrate was that he was the leader of the alliance. However, the Soviets were the problem, not the British.

SPIEGEL: Did Gorbachev make a mistake in your eyes, as someone who practices realpolitik, when he didn't push for German neutrality, even though Germany and America profited from it?

Baker: Under his premise of no use of military force Gorbachev had no other choice. Americans, British, French and the German Federal Government said no to neutrality. On the other hand, the population of East Germany would no longer have accepted the survival of the GDR. Unification was a vote expressed by walking away. Gorbachev could only have stopped the course of events by the force of arms.

SPIEGEL: And yet this retreat of the Soviets, who had for decades tried to hold the West in check with proxy wars and sharp rhetoric, even now seems like a miracle.

Baker: I recall when Gorbachev visited us at the White House. We were in the Cabinet Room when he acknowledged that any country should have the right to choose any alliance it wanted to join. When he did that, it was done. I was sitting there and thought: Wow!

SPIEGEL: "We Americans never danced on the Wall," you once said. Why such modesty?

Baker: The scope of our negotiations with the Russians was not over on the day the Wall came down. We needed them for the soon to follow "Two-Plus-Four" negotiations (between the two Germanys and the four powers that occupied Germany after World War II -- Russia, the United States, Britain and France), we needed them later on for the disarmament talks. We did not want to do anything that could have caused unnecessary embarrassment for Gorbachev.

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