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Kirsty Cockburn
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MIKHAIL GORBACHEV INTERVIEW- Wednesday 26th July, 2006

GEORGE NEGUS: Mr Gorbachev, thank you very much for your time. I realise that it's a busy schedule that you've got in our country.

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FORMER SOVIET LEADER (Translation): Thank you for your interest in our visit.

GEORGE NEGUS: Can I ask you to begin, you said that you fear that the bloodshed in Lebanon could get worse. It could spread beyond the Middle East. How great is your fear? Do you fear a World War III scenario, possibly?

MAKHAIL GORBACHEV (Translation): I don’t think it will go as far as World War III. We will come to our senses. But before we reach the point where we come to our senses, too many things are going to be ruined, too many. And it all started with an attempt, to get back two soldiers. And here are the results. If it continues at this pace, then I think that the British Foreign Minister was right when he said that what was happening was not a surgical operation but rather something more serious, and that the Americans must understand what it is all leading to.

The Americans defended Israel actions…To tell the truth I … I really pity Israel and the Israelis. This action will whip up resentment against them. And that country has been living under pressure for decades, with a machine-gun at their side, as people say. I wonder who needs this. Who needs this turn of events now? When events reach this point, and become so acute and visibly inhumane, I am ready to say that I personally condemn such actions.

GEORGE NEGUS: You've said that terrorism needs to be stopped, but, like many other people, you believe that the way that the Israelis have reacted, is not justified, it's been disproportionate to what's happened. I mean, who do you really blame in the long run for the situation - is it Hezbollah's fault or the Israelis' reaction to what Hezbollah did?

MAKHAIL GORBACHEV (Translation): You know I would rather not go into such calculations… about who is more to blame. The situation there…This confrontation has very deep roots. I don't share the view of those who think that Israel has no right to exist.

GEORGE NEGUS: But what do we do now? What do we do to stop this?

MAKHAIL GORBACHEV (Translation): I think the Security Council must have an urgent meeting and issue this demand immediately, And Israel must submit to it. And the other side must submit as well. They too are firing missiles. And then the process must begin, it will be difficult, as usual, but it must be a diplomatic and political process.

GEORGE NEGUS: But why should that work when both sides are, in fact, in breach of United Nations declarations? Both Hezbollah have not disarmed and the Israelis occupying the Occupied Territories, is also against a United Nations declaration, so why should we expect Hezbollah or the Israelis to respond to a demand by the UN for a cease-fire?

MAKHAIL GORBACHEV (Translation): Do you know what the greatest danger is? That the precedent is being created… that when some breach of international law is detected, the immediate reaction is to use force, and to actually employ force on a large scale. In my opinion this approach means nothing but danger and is fraught with consequences. Things must be done within the limits of international law and there are tools for this.

GEORGE NEGUS: You have said that you fear other nations could be drawn into this exchange that's occurring now.

MAKHAIL GORBACHEV (Translation): If Lebanon can be treated in this way, it creates an atmosphere in which people try to solve their problems in this way. If people take pre-emptive actions and engage in pre-emptive strikes and so forth, I think we might be taken too far. We won’t think our way out of this. Force will be used. And that means victims and destruction and that means our diplomacy is in crisis. And so are international politics.

GEORGE NEGUS: The Americans are standing by and watching this happen. What do you think the American role should be? We're talking about the Israelis here.

MAKHAIL GORBACHEV (Translation): The US President …once again said that he supports Israel. You can do a lot under American protection. They mustn't serve as a protecting roof. They must make the Security Council our common roof and our common judge. And we must operate in accordance with it’s rules and in accordance with international law.

People understand something very wrong is going on. And thinking and informed people ask themselves, “Perhaps the whole agenda is different? Perhaps they’re trying to pull us into something else?” Imagine how many negotiations and peace processes will be scuttled as a result of this action. People everywhere will be trying to use force. The Russian proverb says…I don’t know if Australians have a similar one…”Brawn beats brains.” That is the principle.

But we are now living a world where we need a lot of brains and we need intelligent people in politics. Especially where international politics is concerned.

GEORGE NEGUS: And do you think we're lacking that now?

MAKHAIL GORBACHEV (Translation): Everybody is lacking it. I think that unless our civil society intervenes, unless the people step forward and demand that all parties stop and mend the situation, I think we’ll be in a … You asked me about America….I can’t blame the Americans for anything, not in this case. As the sole remaining super power they have a great role to play. But that role means even greater responsibility, and I think they tend to forget that. That means that some other interests are being served. So tell us what those interests are and then the world will decide whether it agrees to it.

GEORGE NEGUS: Is there a historical irony here, because when there were two superpowers of which you were the leader of one, there seemed to be a balance, there seemed to be the Russian influence, the Soviet influence, over the Arab nations, the American influence over Israel and somehow or other, that seemed to be stopping this sort of thing that's going on now from occurring.

MAKHAIL GORBACHEV (Translation): It was a balance in which so many nuclear weapons were stockpiled in the USSR and the USA that life on earth could have been destroyed, hundreds of times. The very foundations of life could have been wiped out. And all the positions, all the political rivals, all the ideologies would have burned on a nuclear pyre. But I must say that once again I see the signs of an emerging arms race. And instead of solving extremely serious problems…I mean, about half the world’s population lives in poverty, it takes just a week to collect $100 or $200 billion for military activities. Yet we cannot find $50 billion to spend within the next 10 years on research in the field of solar power, and other alternative sources of energy. That is the militarised mentality. We are all suffering from acute militarism. A military psychosis of sorts. We must trust in human beings and not arms.

GEORGE NEGUS: I know you are concerned about nuclear power and it’s effects, you have said that you think it is dangerous and uneconomical. Our Prime Minister, John Howard is saying that he actually thinks that we should consider enriching uranium, that we should head down the path towards nuclear power. What is your advice to him?

MAKHAIL GORBACHEV (Translation): I’ll tell you now. I’ll say something. Yes, I have been through a lot. But my conclusions are based not on fear but on my analysis of situations. My advice and criticism would be worthless if they were just based on fear or anger and general bitterness with the world. “That is how Gorbachev was treated…” No. I am still in good shape. I’m boasting of it.

GEORGE NEGUS: You don't look like a bitter person.

MAKHAIL GORBACHEV (Translation): No. That is what I’m saying. I keep in shape. And it’s a godsend for terrorists. Nuclear power plants always are. So there are a lot of problems that require us to be very careful with nuclear energy, old plants must be disposed of. Do you know how much effort and expense that involves? The initial costs and the final costs are huge. Put them together and it’s not so cheap. On the contrary, to some extent it operates at a loss.

Those countries that possess the capacity to solve their energy problems by using traditional sources should not rush into building new plants. I do not consider your government to be irresponsible. I expect them to consider the matter carefully and I think it will be resolved democratically, involving the democratic institutions as well as the citizens of this country. They should weigh up everything carefully. I would also like to say something about nuclear weapons. There can be no winners in a nuclear war and nuclear war can not be allowed to happen. But look, nuclear weapons are now considered, first by the US, then followed by Russia, as always, as a first strike and even a pre-emptive strike weapon. But we should remember that in one SS18 missile…One such missile, it is a 10-warhead missile, contains 100Chernobyls. One missile, and there are thousands of them. So this problem to do with nuclear energy will remain extremely important, and everything must be done to keep the situation under control. That means we must strictly adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, get rid of nuclear weapons and we must consider very carefully and responsibly the issue of whether or not to build nuclear power plants.

GEORGE NEGUS: That sounds like a good point to end on, and I have to say that Mikhail Gorbachev was once a politician and is still a politician. Thank you very much for your time. Appreciate it. Enjoy your stay in our country.