mikhail-gorbachev_fc.jpgFormer Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev criticized the war in Iraq during a lecture on Wednesday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood.

He said not a “single goal’’ has been achieved since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“The weapons of mass destruction have not been found.  Iraq is a country that is not stable,’’ he said. “We want to find a decent way out of this situation.
What we need is a diplomatic way to solve this problem.’’

Beyond the Iraq war, Gorbachev said, world leaders have yet to achieve global peace more than two decades after the demise of the Soviet Union.

The Seminole Tribe invited Gorbachev, who is recognized for helping end the Cold War, to give a speech titled “Peace in the 21st Century’’ at Hard Rock Live, the casino’s entertainment hall.

The 5,500-seat auditorium was about half full.

Guests heard one of the world’s most influential political leaders give a one-hour lecture, followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience.

Speaking through a translator, Gorbachev, the 1990 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, said many opportunities to solve some of the world’s biggest problems – poverty, hunger, health care, environmental issues – were missed after the fall of the socialist state. He said it’s time to “rebuild the trust’’ that existed at the end of the Cold War.

“We have not been able to join forces, to unite our efforts, to address the multiple problems of today’s world,’’ said Gorbachev, 77, who led the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991. “Let us remember all the difficulties we were able to solve. Why is it that despite the fact that after putting an end to the Cold War … many of the expectations have not been fulfilled?’’

He said the U.S. government made a mistake in its attempt to build relationships with Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“The Russian people were euphoric about Americans and the U.S. was number one in the minds of many Russians,’’ Gorbachev said. “I don’t think the U.S. government responded properly to that. You cannot build policies just on pragmatic calculations.’’

Gorbachev, currently the leader of the Union of Social Democrats, an organization he formed to lead Russia toward a social democratic path, said the world’s poverty is a situation that is getting worse and serves as a “powerful time bomb.’’

“Food crises have become a major problem,’’ he said. “The world has enough resources to help poor countries, not by handouts, but by helping them
through education … technology. Many of the poor countries are in an area where the climate is quite good for agriculture.’’

Gorbachev said another major problem today is the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The world should be moving toward completely eliminating nuclear weapons, he said, adding that the U.S. spends more on weapons than the rest of the world combined.

“Instead of reducing these nuclear weapons, we are perfecting them,’’ he said.

While serving as leader of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev, who often spoke of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform) during his reign, said he started a dialogue with the people of Russia and helped usher in a new generation of political leaders.

“This new generation [of leaders] began to respond to the expectations of the people and the [expectations] were very simple,’’ said Gorbachev, who was born to a peasant family in a village near Stavropol, Russia. “They wanted freedom and they wanted change.’’

He said that change posed a difficult transition to a new way of life for his country.

Speaking to the media shortly before the event, a reporter asked Gorbachev his views on former Cuban president Fidel Castro, who recently stepped down from power. Gorbachev said he had a “friendly relationship’ with Castro and that it was a mistake to demonize him. He said the U.S. economic embargo should be lifted, which he recommended to former President George H.W.  Bush while serving as the Soviet Leader.

“He was literally pushed into being a communist in the Western Hemisphere,’’ Gorbachev said of Castro. “I believe that [Cuba] is a good country, even though they are facing some difficulties.’’

Gorbachev said Vladimir Putin, the current president of Russia, and current U.S. President George W. Bush are working together, a process that must continue once new presidents assume leadership. The terms of both presidents will expire within the next year.

“They’re trying to get along and that’s a good thing,’’ Gorbachev said of Bush and Putin. “I hope these new presidents do not go their separate ways. Let us demand cooperation, not just to benefit our nations, but the world.’’


Photo by Sayre Berman: Former Soviet  Union President Mikhail Gorbachev