- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

MOSCOW — When Ronald Reagan proclaimed the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” some saw it as political theater, a cold warrior’s script. Yet former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said yesterday that the American president was sincere — an honest rival and a friend.

His was just one of the numerous warm tributes paid to the former president from around the world yesterday, by one-time rivals and allies alike. The only harsh notes came from the Arab nations.

Both Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev had feared that their countries were heading for an atomic conflict and their complicated negotiations helped shift course away from potential catastrophe, said Mr. Gorbachev, who won the 1990 Nobel Prize for his work in reforming the Soviet Union and easing world tension.

“I take the death of Ronald Reagan very hard,” Mr. Gorbachev said. “He was a man whom fate set by me in perhaps the most difficult years at the end of the 20th century.”

The last Soviet leader spoke at his western Moscow office of the Gorbachev Foundation, an analytical organization he has run since 1992.

Those were years, Mr. Gorbachev said, “when everyone felt that we lived under the threat of nuclear conflict, and it felt as if the arms race was spiraling out of control, that we couldn’t control the military machine properly.”

Mr. Reagan “has already entered history as a man who was instrumental in bringing about the end of the Cold War,” Mr. Gorbachev added, his voice often falling to near-inaudible levels.

Despite Mr. Reagan’s often-forceful statements against the Soviet Union, Mr. Gorbachev said the former U.S. president also had a personal warmth that bolstered their relations.

“In terms of human qualities, he and I had, you would say, communicativeness and this helped us carry on normally,” Mr. Gorbachev said.

Other Russians yesterday recalled Mr. Reagan as the man who launched a withering weapons race with his “Star Wars” program that precipitated the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Reagan bolstered the U.S. military might to ruin the Soviet economy, and he achieved his goal,” said Gennady Gerasimov, who was the top spokesman for the Soviet Foreign Ministry during the 1980s.

In other former East Bloc nations, Mr. Reagan was remembered as the American president who stared down Moscow and cleared the way for their independence.

“President Ronald Reagan will be remembered in the hearts of all Latvians as a fighter for freedom, liberty and justice worldwide,” Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said.

Mr. Reagan was not remembered so fondly in many Arab nations. The Reagan years marked the beginning of a “bad era” of U.S. Middle East policy that continues to this day, said Lebanese Culture Minister Ghazi Aridi.

Haitham al-Kilani, political analyst and former Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, agreed.

“Reagan’s role was bad for the Arab-Israeli conflict and was specifically against Syria. He was the victim of the Israeli right wing that was, and still is, dominating the White House,” Mr. al-Kilani said.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said he was sorry that Mr. Reagan died without standing trial for air strikes he ordered in 1986 that killed Col. Gadhafi’s adopted daughter and 36 others.

Mr. Reagan ordered the April 15, 1986, air raid in response to a disco bombing in Berlin purportedly ordered by Col. Gadhafi, which killed two U.S. soldiers and a Turkish woman and injured 229 persons.

“I express my deep regret because Reagan died before facing justice for his ugly crime that he committed in 1986 against the Libyan children,” Libya’s official Jamahiriya News Agency quoted Col. Gadhafi as saying yesterday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office expressed sorrow over Mr. Reagan’s death, calling him “a friend of the state of Israel.”

Pope John Paul II learned of Mr. Reagan’s death with “sadness” during a trip to Switzerland and immediately prayed for the “eternal rest of his soul,” Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said. The pope, a native of Poland, also recalled Mr. Reagan’s contribution to “historical events that changed the lives of millions of people, mainly Europeans.”

Lech Walesa, the former Solidarity leader and Poland’s postcommunist president, recalled Mr. Reagan as a “modest” person whose opposition to communism was firmly rooted in a deeper hatred for inequity.

“When he saw injustice, he wanted to do away with it,” Mr. Walesa said. “He saw communism, and he wanted to put an end to it.”

In Berlin, Johannes Rau, president of the now-united Germany, said Mr. Reagan’s challenge to Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, made in a June 1987 speech before the concrete and barbed wire barrier, will “remain unforgettable.”

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder sent President Bush a letter of condolence.

“His engagement in overcoming the East-West conflict and his vision of a free and united Europe created the conditions for change that in the end made the restoration of German unity possible,” the chancellor wrote. “Germany will always have an honored memory of President Reagan because of that.”

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