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Reagan, Gorbachev And 'Three Days In Moscow'


Ronald Reagan stood in front of a bust of Lenin and a mural of the Russian Revolution in a grand hall of Moscow State University 30 years ago and brought down the house.


RONALD REAGAN: In this Moscow spring, this May 1988, we may be allowed that hope. That freedom, like the fresh green sapling planted over Tolstoy's grave, will blossom forth at last in the rich, fertile soil of your people and culture.

SIMON: And a year later, the Berlin Wall came down and soon thereafter, the Soviet Union. President Reagan's speech was part of his fourth summit meeting with the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who'd opened a path to reform. Bret Baier, chief political anchor for Fox News, tells the story of that summit in his book, "Three Days In Moscow." He joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

BRET BAIER: Scott, thanks for having me.

SIMON: President Reagan didn't believe in what they used to call coexistence. He believed in peace. But he - well, let me get you pick that up.

BAIER: Right. You know, he used that line, peace through strength, and he really was aggressive against the communists in everything he said and did early in his administration - didn't feel like there was an opening with any of the previous leaders. He would joke, all of them are dying on me. But with Mikhail Gorbachev, found someone that he thought he could negotiate with, so even as he was laying down the evil empire and that communism is going to end up in the ash heap of history, he was setting the table for this negotiation that ended up to be historic.

SIMON: What was the nub of the working relationship Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were ultimately able to work out? Because in many ways, Gorbachev's name means - as I don't have to tell you - probably more in the West today than it does in many parts of Russia.

BAIER: Well, that's right because at the end of his time in the Soviet Union in power, the country was going south. Here, he was seen as a guy who opened the door for these negotiations. One of the things was when he came to Washington, he was treated like a rock star. Reagan saw that and how he had kind of captured the moment. And Reagan and Nancy Reagan had their own moment in Moscow going out in the square and people flocking around him.

SIMON: Tell us, though, about another moment that Ronald Reagan had in I believe it was Red Square where he began to notice a pattern to some of the questions that he got.

BAIER: (Laughter) The questions were very detailed, and they were from supposedly average citizens about the negotiations that were ongoing. Basically, those were KGB officers. And if you look closely at the picture, there is a KGB officer, it's believed, Vladimir Putin with a camera around his neck.

SIMON: I have to - I have to obviously mention what I'll call the elephant in the studio.

BAIER: Yeah.

SIMON: Lots of our listeners are going to be upset I'm talking to someone with Fox News, and even though you're identified with Chris Wallace and others as being a good newsman, I think they're concerned about Fox News - not that it's a conservative voice. We have conservative voices all - on all the time - but that Fox News is some kind of mouthpiece for the Trump administration.

BAIER: Right. So my job is a news show. It's a show that covers all sides. Obviously, there are many shows on Fox that have an opinion, and I'd basically put my blinders on and work from 6 to 7 to make sure that we have a product that at the end of the day somebody watching could say that was fair. So the biggest critics are usually the people who haven't seen my show. And I tell them watch three times and drop me an email and tell me how we did.

SIMON: Are you ever aware that the president of the United States might be watching?

BAIER: I'm always aware now.

SIMON: I must say, not a concern that I have so much here (laughter) - sorry.

BAIER: (Laughter) Scott, well, he may be - he may be listening in.

SIMON: And he's welcome to...


SIMON: ...As far as that goes. But...

BAIER: No, clearly - and his Twitter feed is very active, and sometimes it does track with what we're doing. Listen, we're going to cover all sides. I have not been able to get an interview with the president of the United States, neither has Chris Wallace even though the others on the channel have.

SIMON: Yeah. We speak in a week in which Vladimir Putin has been inaugurated Russia's leader again - 18 years in power. What do you make of President Trump's persistent compliments?

BAIER: You know, every administration has tried to do their own reset with Russia all the way back to Eisenhower and Khrushchev. This is unique because Russia has clearly attacked the United States in a cyber way. They're always active in trying to disrupt something and cause chaos, and they have been for years. But this is unique. So when the president makes the comments that he does, despite what the policy may be, to arm the Ukrainians or to get natural gas to Eastern Europe or to put sanctions on various people, I think there's a hunger for him to step up and say something negative. And that really hasn't happened a lot.

SIMON: What do you think Ronald Reagan learned through his series of summit meetings that something might be good to bear in mind, both for whoever the president is and the public?

BAIER: One is hold your ground. Be willing to walk away. If the deal's not working, walk away. Two is establish relationships. The relationship he had with Gorbachev was really what got them to the finish line. And three was explain it to the American people in a way that you get some support for what you're doing.

SIMON: Bret Baier - his book, "Three Days In Moscow." Thanks so much for being with us.

BAIER: Scott, thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.