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Bush Sr. on the Germany after the Wall

Gero Schliess, Washington
November 6, 2014

In an exlusive interview with DW, President George H.W. Bush talks about convincing Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev Germany should be reunited after the Fall of the Berlin Wall and his confidence in US-German relations.

George H. W. Bush
Image: AFP/Getty Images/B. Smialowski

DW: Mr. President, when you look back at the year 1989, how did you personally view the fall of the Berlin Wall?

President George H.W. Bush: Although personally elated over what appeared to have happened, I was immediately wary about offering hasty comments to the media. We had to be careful how we portrayed our response to the good news, and anticipate not only President Gorbachev's reaction - but also that of his opposition within the Soviet Union. It was not a time to gloat.

How did you and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl manage to convince Gorbachev that Germany should be reunited and be a member of NATO?

We worked very hard to set a constructive and collaborative tone as reunification was being debated. We felt strongly that reunification and a new Europe, whole and free, should not come at the expense of other nations. It had to come with and through them - both East and West. We were conscious not to cast the changes taking place around us in terms of winners and losers.

Then-Chancellor Kohl stressed that the close and trusting relationship with you was essential for a successful reunification of Germany. Do you remember the most crucial decisions you had to make?

The single most crucial decision we had to make - whether or not to support German unification - was in the end not a difficult one particularly because of the close and trusting relationship to which you refer.

Bush, Kohl, Gorbachev and Berlin's mayor celebrate German reunification in 1999
Bush, Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev were instrumental to German reunificationImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In your address to the German people on the reunification of Germany [on October 2, 1990 - eds.] you said, "A world without the wall would mean that Germany would contribute in full measure as a force for peace and stability in world affairs." Has Germany fulfilled your expectations?

Yes, and then some! To see a united Germany tackle the tough challenges associated with unification and go on to play a leading and constructive role on a host of regional and global issues has been truly wonderful to witness.

Since participating in what you have termed a partnership in leadership with Germany, the world has changed dramatically in ways that affect the German-American relationship. Do you think both countries' commitment to the Atlantic Alliance is still strong enough to face new global challenges such as the Ukraine crisis or the turmoil in the Middle East?

I am optimistic about the US and Germany and our common future in large part because I believe there are more than enough people in both countries who understand we can accomplish much more as allies and partners than we might do otherwise.

Germany wants to take more responsibility in foreign affairs. In your view, does this mean that Germany should strengthen its military contribution to the coalition led by the US to combat the "Islamic State" group?

I will let Chancellor Merkel, for whom I have great respect, and her advisors sort out that internal question for Germany. I have never been much for doling out unsolicited advice, and less so at age 90.

In your address to the German people, you emphasized that Americans and Germans share the same values. Since the NSA revelations, polls show that Germans dispute this; they distrust the US. What needs to be done to reestablish trust and strengthen the ties between Germany and the US?

I hope the anniversary we are marking will perhaps refresh in our collective minds the serious commitment that the American people and their government have made to Germany and its welfare dating back not just to 1989, but to 1945. I hope any recent and real irritants that may have erupted will not obscure that far bigger and more enduring picture.

George Herbert Walker Bush served as president of the United States from 1989 to 1993. He was interviewed by Gero Schliess in Washington, DC.

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