Moscow on the Potomac

December 13, 1990

Imagine this situation: Secretary of State James Baker goes to Moscow, confers with Fidel Castro, restores full diplomatic relations with Cuba, works out an agreement on Angola, removes some of the last impediments to the START treaty and stops by to see Mikhail Gorbachev who revels in the two superpowers standing shoulder to shoulder in the Gulf crisis.

Had this happened, which it did not, Mr. Baker's compatriots might wonder if he had moved Foggy Bottom to the banks of the Moskva River. But with appropriate variations, the above whirlwind pretty much describes how Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze ran Soviet diplomacy out of his hip pocket in Washington yesterday.

Perhaps the world has gotten so used to the fact that the Cold War is over that the full extent of the spectacle was unappreciated. But consider:

Mr. Shevardnadze met with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir as part of the move to re-establish diplomatic relations with a country Moscow has not recognized for 23 years. He received American recompense for this gesture with $1 billion in food aid and the temporary lifting of the 16-year-old Jackson-Vanik Amendment denying normal U.S. trade benefits to the Soviet Union. He conferred, for the first time, with the U.S.-backed Angolan rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, while an American official talked with the foreign minister of the Moscow-backed Angolan government. He renegotiated elements of the START treaty to be signed in Moscow in mid-February. And he stopped by the White House where President Bush reveled in the "shoulder-to-shoulder" relationship of old adversaries turned allies.

That the United States and the Soviet Union can interact, when they wish, on so large an international agenda is hardly surprising. In the bad old days, the globe was dotted with places where Americans and Russians were in various stages of confrontation. Now, as Cold War debris is cleared away, opportunities for cooperation are manifold.

Yesterday's developments in the U.S.-Soviet-Israel triangle were truly extraordinary. Moscow's break with Israel during the 1967 war and its consequent isolation from Middle East diplomacy resulted in a Brezhnev-era refusal to let Soviet Jewry emigrate to Israel. This, in turn, led to passage of the Jackson-Vanik curb on trade until the Kremlin relented.

These mutually disadvantageous practices were being dismantled even before Iraq's conquest of Kuwait. But with Moscow willing to align itself against its former clients in Baghdad, the reconciliation accelerated. As it did yesterday on Angola. And as it did the day before on Afghanistan.

While the threat of war in the Persian Gulf casts a dark shadow over this holiday season, American-Soviet reconciliation pierces the clouds with a beam of hope and maybe even of peace.

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