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Bill Keller: Maggie and Gorby

Bill Keller is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times. Prior to this role he was the executive editor of The Times, a role he held since 2003.

On the evening of March 31, 1987, viewers in the Soviet Union turned on their TV sets and watched (I’d bet no one turned it off) an astonishing spectacle. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, concluding a visit to Moscow, was pitted against three of the state-controlled media’s most polished propagandists. For 50 minutes, she tied them in knots, shifting between firm diplomacy and patient, school-marmish exposition, with – whenever one of the interviewers tried to interrupt – flashes of Trunchbull discipline. Even by the standards of the day – Mikhail Gorbachev’s cascade of glasnost, the thawing of the Cold War – the Thatcher interview was amazing. She articulated a peace-through-strength line on nuclear and conventional arms control, disclosing along the way facts that Soviet viewers had never read or heard in their media about their own arsenals. (A transcript is here.) She heaped praise on Gorbachev but, at a time when Gorbachev and President Reagan were indulging in talk about a world without nuclear weapons, Thatcher explained to viewers the European view that only nuclear deterrence had sustained 40 years of peace. The interview ran uncut.

Afterwards Georgi Arbatov, director of Moscow’s Institute for U.S.A. and Canada Studies and a favorite Kremlin apologist, groused to a British reporter that, by comparison with Thatcher, President Reagan seemed “more forward-looking and more realistic.” But Russians, who have an unwise taste for authoritarians, liked Thatcher’s take-no-guff style....

Read entire article at NYT