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Ex-Georgia President Eduard Shavardnadze Dies. He was 86


Let's take a moment to remember Edward Shevardnazde. He was the foreign minister for the Soviet Union in the 1980s. That means he was one of the faces of the Soviet Union during its final period of reform under Mikhail Gorbachev. When that union broke apart, Shevardnazde became the president of his home republic, Georgia. And he has died at the age of 86. We're going to talk about Shevardnazde with Pavel Palazhchenko. He was an interpreter for both Gorbachev and this Shevardnazde. He's on the line. Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: How long did you work with Shevardnazde?

PALAZHCHENKO: From mid-1985 until his resignation at the end of 1990 - So five years.

INSKEEP: Really a dramatic period when the Soviet Union attempting to change. In the end, it fell apart. But this was a period - was it not? - of intense negotiations, including nuclear negotiations, with the United States.

PALAZHCHENKO: Yes, indeed. And Shevardnazde played a very important part in those negotiations. In fact, today, in his condolences at the death of Shevardnazde, Gorbachev mentioned, in particular, Shevardnazde's contribution to the negotiation on arms control and the nuclear arms.

INSKEEP: Well, as someone who interpreted the words of the man, you must've had a quite intimate sense of the way that he spoke or even, on some level, the way that he thought. What was that like?

PALAZHCHENKO: Well, I think what - what he thought about was his personal commitment to the policy of (unintelligible) and what was called the new thinking - that is to say effort to end the internationalization of the Soviet Union, to normalize relationships with both the United States and China and to start process of nuclear arms reduction.

INSKEEP: Do you know where that commitment came from?

PALAZHCHENKO: Well, frankly, I think it came from a deep understanding of the problems and the challenges that the country was facing of the kind of dead end in the previous, both domestic and international, policy.

INSKEEP: Do you feel that with his work as foreign minister under the Soviet Union and later as president of Georgia, that Shevardnazde, in some way, helped to change the world?

PALAZHCHENKO: Oh, absolutely. I mean, as I've said, we started with Gorbachev and Shevardnazde in almost total isolation. And when the relations with the United States were, perhaps, at their lowest point in decades - when we had involvement in all kinds of conflicts from Nicaragua to Cambodia. And we were able to end that isolation - to end our involvement in conflicts - to stop the process that has, by now, resulted in the elimination and destruction of literally tens of thousands of nuclear warheads. So that was all a great achievement. And Shevardnazde had a great part in all of those.

INSKEEP: It must be very difficult to reconstruct the intricacies of nuclear negotiations in a moment. But I wonder if you can remember any particular moment in which Shevardnazde, through his words or deeds, managed to keep the process moving - kept things from falling apart as, I suppose, they could have?

PALAZHCHENKO: I remember a very quick trip that Shevardnazde had to make to Washington in late-October, 1997. There were just, I think, four or five of us on the plane - Shevardnazde, his deputies, the (unintelligible) , a couple of assistants and myself. That was it. And we came to Washington, and he spent quite a lot of time with (unintelligible) and Reagan. And we came back with the conviction that the treaty would be fined, and it was fined a month later.

INSKEEP: Pavel Palazhchenko, thank you very much.


INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.