Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Baker Meets with Shevardnadze in Irkutsk and Moscow, August 1-3, 1990 (excerpt from Chapter 11.11, Moscow 1989-1991)

Baker-Shevardnadze in Irkutsk, August 1-2, 1990.
Starting with the Wyoming Ministerial in September, 1989, Secretary Baker and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze increasingly took the opportunity to meet in unusual places outside of Moscow and Washington, DC, in a manner designed to show the host country in its best light.  For that reason, it was no surprise when we learned that the August 1990 meeting of the two leaders would take place in Irkutsk.  Secretary Baker was apparently enthused about the locale, because it gave him an excuse to take a side trip to Mongolia, where he planned to get in some hunting.  There was some grumbling about the object of his hunting trip, an Argali sheep with curled horns several feet in length.  It was not thought to be a proper activity for a Secretary of State, particularly since the animal in question was an endangered species, but plans went ahead for the trip anyway.

John Beyrle did the advance for S/S-S, and a team of Embassy officers that included me, Ed Salazar and Tatyana Gfoeller-Volkoff journeyed out to Irkutsk a week early to make all the
necessary preparations.  We were escorted by a large contingent of Soviet advance personnel,
including Sergey Davydov from MFA Protocol and Andrey Rogov from the USA Desk.  Sergey, in contrast to most of the people I had encountered in Protocol was very action-oriented, and easy to work with.  Whenever we encountered a roadblock in our preparations, he would simply pick up the phone, dial one of his many contacts, and inevitably start the conversation with the words: “С кем имею честь?”  (To whom do I have the honor of speaking?).  He didn’t have to twist too many arms.  The Irkutsk authorities did everything they could to ensure a successful visit, knowing full well that a Baker-Shevardnadze meeting would put their Siberian province on the map.

Andrey Rogov was not as action-oriented as Davydov, but he was very easy to deal with and laid back.  He had a nearly perfect command of English, and it was clearly his ambition to be posted to Washington.  He eventually achieved his objective, and, after a few years at the Russian Embassy in the early 1990s, reportedly resigned from the Diplomatic Service to take up a career as a Washington lobbyist, of all things. 

Knowing that Baker was an avid fisherman, the Soviets laid on a restful afternoon at the “Fisherman’s Hut,” a luxurious VIP log lodge located just up the Angara river from the lake. 
Andrey and I were deputized to go down to the lodge to make sure all was in readiness.  It was, so we spent most of the day sitting around and swapping stories.  That evening, with all preparations complete, the American and Soviet advance teams spent the evening at Irkutsk’s “Chinese” restaurant, sampling its dubious cuisine.

As the time for the visit approached, Baker’s lieutenants began filtering in.  We put most of them up in the Intourist Hotel, which was our base of operations, and in general, the early arrivals caused no problems, with one exception.  EA Assistant Secretary Richard Solomon had flown in from Beijing and somehow lost his passport en route.  He wound up phoning us from the transit lounge at Irkutsk airport, informing us that the Soviet border guards would not let him into the country.  I went out to the airport, and after a short conversation with the local head of the pogranichniki, was able to get him waived through passport and customs, on the understanding that he would be leaving on Baker’s plane.  Solomon was duly impressed, but I was a little surprised at how unconcerned he was that he might be stranded in the transit lounge during the visit.  Later, John Beyrle filled me in on Solomon.  He was a very nice guy, and very knowledgeable in his field, but notoriously disorganized, a fact that did not endear him to Secretary Baker.  On one occasion, when he was travelling with the Secretary, Solomon and an aide got off at a fuel stop in Fiji to do a little shopping.  No one noticed that they were gone until the plane was taxiing down the runway in preparation for takeoff.  Just then, the pilot reported that he saw Solomon and his aide running furiously across the tarmac in an attempt to catch up with the plane.  The pilot asked Baker what to do.  “Take off,” was Baker’s laconic reply.

The Baker-Shevardnadze meetings went off without significant problems, with both Ministers enjoying themselves at the Fisherman’s Hut, and engaging in rather desultory talks on Afghanistan, arms control and timing for the next Summit meeting.  On Thursday, Secretary Baker departed for Mongolia and his sheep-hunting expedition, and John Beyrle and I and the rest of the Advance Team packed up and flew back to Moscow.  John stayed over at my place and we were planning to take the day off on Friday.

Those plans were dashed, however, when the phone rang at 7am and we were told that Baker was hurrying back from Mongolia for a meeting with Shevardnadze in Moscow, a trip described in breathless detail in the first chapter of Baker's memoirs, "The Politics of Diplomacy."   Just as the Irkutsk meeting was breaking up, Saddam Hussein had invaded and occupied Kuwait, sparking a global crisis.  Iraq had been one subject of the Irkutsk talks, but honestly no one in the diplomatic world had expected that Saddam would be stupid enough to attack his neighbor, particularly when Baker and Shevardnadze were already meeting and discussing the Iraq situation. 

The first order of business was to ensure that Secretary Baker’s plane was cleared into Moscow, and DAO immediately began working with its counterparts on that issue.  Meanwhile, John and I drove out to Vnukovo II with all the members of the Advance Team that we could find to set up the VIP airport for a meeting and press conference later that day.  John paid particular attention to a seemingly trivial element, the arrangement of furniture in the meeting room.  John knew from past experience that Baker liked it one way and one way only.

Baker’s plane arrived and his staff began streaming down the stairs to set up for a press conference in the Main Hall.  It turned out that there had nearly been a disaster of sorts on the trip back from Mongolia.  The Secretary’s plane had stopped in Irkutsk to refuel and had blown a tire on landing.  There were apparently no suitable jacks available, so the plane sat on the tarmac for hours while airport officials frantically worked on a temporary solution.  I’m not sure how the problem was solved, although it was most likely a classic Russian improvisation of some sort.

As staffers milled around the Main Hall, Pat Kennedy, who at the time headed S/S-EX, could be seen calmly connecting all the audio equipment together as John and I escorted the Secretary and his party up to the meeting room.  By the time they had completed their talks upstairs, everything was ready for their press conference in the Main Hall, with the Moscow press corps hurriedly assembled behind rope barriers.  Baker and Shevardnadze made a joint statement on Iraq, declaring an arms embargo, but not specifying what future steps might be taken.  As a participant in the event, I was hurrying around too fast getting things set up to pay too much attention to what they said, but it was clear that a fundamental change had occurred in U.S.-Soviet relations.  We had suddenly changed from cautious adversaries into allies, at least with regard to the Middle East.  Unfortunately, only four months later, Shevardnadze resigned in protest over Gorbachev’s attempts to compromise with the demands of Soviet hardliners over Lithuania and other internal security issues.  He was replaced by Aleksandr Bessmertnykh, a friend of the U.S., but no ally.  The golden period of U.S.-Soviet foreign relations was over almost as quickly as it had begun.

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