WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III said yesterday that, after four decades of antagonism, the United States and the Soviet Union are now on the threshold of "a genuine partnership" in meeting the full range of challenges to world peace and security.
He proposed that the two superpowers expand their blossoming relationship to include efforts to stop nuclear proliferation, prepare for the mutual conversion of defense industries to peacetime use and join forces in a global crusade to clean up the environment.
"We have never, ever enjoyed greater possibilities for cooperation," Mr. Baker declared in a speech to a gathering of experts on U.S.-Soviet relations. "A normal relationship . . . may be within our reach."
In fact, as Mr. Baker spoke, Soviet envoy Yevgeny Primakov had just completed a White House meeting with President Bush where the two spent nearly 1 1/2 hours discussing strategy and tactics for driving the invading Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
Nothing new came out of the session, during which Mr. Primakov reported on his recent meeting in Baghdad with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, White House officials said. But it underscored what Mr. Baker called "the most obvious example" of the way in which the former Cold War competitors are now working together to resolve regional conflicts.
But Mr. Baker also warned that Americans will have to help the Soviets survive political and economic disruptions resulting from the painful transition of their own society.
"The danger is that the breakdown of the old Stalinist system will outstrip the development of the new system -- one built on universal democratic values and the rule of law," Mr. Baker said.
Hard choices must be made by the Soviet people themselves, "but their choices will be less hard if we in the West stand by their side [even if] our influence may only be marginal," he said.
As a part of that effort, Mr. Baker announced that President Bush has included the Soviet Union in a volunteer program created to share expertise in democratic processes and market economics with the newly emerged democracies of Eastern Europe.