Superpower Bridge-building

October 02, 1990

Over the weekend, as statesmen gathered at the United Nations, the two superpowers took major steps with third countries to create the kind of post-Cold War world order that is made possible by their improved bilateral relationship.

The Soviet Union charted full diplomatic relations with South Korea, thus creating a two-Korea policy after years of recognizing only Kim Il-sung's North Korea. Moscow is too much in need of South Korean technology, capital and products to resist commercial relations.

Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze also had a nuts and bolts session with Foreign Minister David Levy of Israel, with which the Soviet Union broke relations in 1967. Relations have been warming since 1987. A full Soviet relationship with Israel is necessary to encourage Israeli-Arab dialogue, and to handle the exodus of Soviet Jews to Israel. Mr. Shevardnadze and Mr. Levy agreed to establish consulates in each other's countries and to meet regularly. Coincidentally, Moscow was approving direct air links to Israel. This is not full diplomatic relations, but is three steps closer.

Meanwhile, the United States made its move as Secretary of State James A. Baker III met with Vietnam's Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach. This was billed by the State Department as "an exceptional meeting," and a step toward normalization. The Carter administration explored normalization in the late 1970s, but called it off when China and Vietnam were heading into conflict and the administration gave priority to China.

In short, Moscow did not previously recognize South Korea and Israel because they were on Washington's side, nor Washington Vietnam because it was on Moscow's. The U.S. still has issues outstanding with Hanoi as it seeks information on 2,300 American servicemen missing in the Indochinese war and tries to insure that every Vietnamese soldier has left Cambodia. What has long been apparent is that these are better dealt with from full diplomatic contact than in its absence, and were never the real obstacle to recognition.

All this contact leaves out regimes that are ideologically unprepared for it. Cuba is isolated. Iraq has nowhere to turn for aid. They have just been given new reasons to rethink their positions.

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