Ronald Reagan tried to convert Mikhail Gorbachev to Christianity, aide claims

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A close aide to Ronald Reagan has claimed that the former US president tried to convert the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Christianity.

A new biography that draws on recently declassified documents discloses a secret exchange between the two leaders that left at least one official present convinced that Reagan had tried to persuade his counterpart of God's existence.

The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan, by the former Los Angeles Times reporter James Mann, provides fresh insight into the former US president's religious convictions and the role they played in foreign policy. Reagan had apparently reached a conviction, which has since become well-documented, that Mr Gorbachev was a "closet Christian" after hearing the Soviet leader use the expression "God bless".

Advisers told Reagan not to read too much into the expression. Colin Powell, the national security adviser, told the president: "Don't see this as an expression of religious faith. It's almost idiomatic. He's not ready to get down on his knees for you."

But during their final summit meeting in Moscow in May, 1988, Reagan opened what appeared to be a pre-planned discussion about God.

Reagan took the opportunity he sought when Mr Gorbachev disclosed that he had been baptised into the Russian Orthodox faith by his mother but now had no religious belief.

He started by telling Mr Gorbachev a tale about a wounded Russian soldier during the Second World War who turned to God just before he died even though he had been raised an atheist.

One of the men recording the conversation, Rudolf Perina, the director of Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council, was convinced that Reagan had tried to convert his host.

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