State Dinner for the Gorbachevs, 1987

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“Our Soviet guests had informed us in advance that they would not be wearing black tie, although all state dinners are formal affairs. Tuxedos just aren’t worn in Soviet society, where they’re seen as a symbol of bourgeois capitalism. This situation had come up before, with the Chinese and with President Sadat. The Americans wore black tie, and our guests came in business suits. Raisa wore a black brocade gown…

…Following protocol, Raisa sat next to Ronnie at his table, while Gorbachev sat with me. On the other side of Raisa we put Vernon Walters, our ambassador to the United Nations. He speaks Russian, and I knew he’d keep the conversation going. And maybe Ronnie would be spared a lecture!

Next to me I put Richard Perle, the brilliant and controversial assistant secretary of Defense. Richard has very strong views on the Soviet Union, and he isn’t shy about expressing them. Gorbachev seems to enjoy a good give-and-take, and he likes it when people challenge him….

…Gorbachev had never met Richard Perle, but he certainly knew who he was. Moreover, he had recently seen a dramatic reconstruction of the Reykjavik meeting, which was produced in England by Granada Television. Perle, who is portly, had been played by a rather slim actor. ‘Oh, yes,’ teased Gorbachev when I introduced them, ‘When I saw you on television, you were a lot thinner.’

I didn’t hear all of their conversation, but at one point Perle asked Gorbachev flat-out: ‘What percentage of the Soviet GNP goes for defense?’

‘That’s a secret,’ replied Gorbachev, ‘and I won’t answer it.’

‘Are you sure you know?’ asked Perle.

‘I know everything,’ Gorbachev replied, ‘I’m head of the Defense Council, so you’re dinning with a military man.’

‘I think you’re spending twenty percent, and probably more,’ said Perle. Gorbachev just looked at him without any expression.”

My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan, Nancy Reagan with William Novak, Dell Publishing, 1989.

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