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Did Reagan Try To Convert Gorbachev?

Monday, March 9, 2009 0 comments

It was the question that preoccupied President Ronald Reagan: Was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a religious believer? Reagan held a series of summits with Gorbachev from 1985 to 1988, and as their meetings proceeded, Reagan sometimes speculated to his aides that Gorbachev's use of phrases such as "God bless" might be an expression of religious faith. Many of the summit sessions involved large groups of U.S. and Soviet officials, discussing issues like arms control and regional conflicts. But in one-on-one talks with Gorbachev outside the presence of other senior officials like Secretary of State George Shultz, Reagan sometimes ventured off in directions of his own. The eternal optimist, Reagan was convinced that Gorbachev was capable of changing the Soviet system, and he thought the key to such a turnaround might be religion. Finally, during their fourth summit meeting in 1988, Reagan launched into a private conversation with Gorbachev, one that he promised the Soviet leader he would deny had ever taken place.

It was during the first one-on-one session in Moscow that Reagan engaged in a bold but questionable endeavor well beyond his mandate as president of the United States. According to the memo of their conversation, which was based on notes taken by two Reagan aides and has now been declassified and made available at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Reagan secretly attempted to persuade Gorbachev of the existence of God.


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