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As Nuclear Powers Trade Threats, Gorbachev Calls on US and Russia to 'Return to Sanity'

"The situation hasn't been this bad in a long time," says the former Soviet leader.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, seen here in 2013, said Tuesday that Russian and U.S. leaders must meet to diffuse tensions over Syria.  (Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré via UN Geneva/flickr/cc)

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, seen here in 2013, said Tuesday that Russian and U.S. leaders must meet to diffuse tensions over Syria.  (Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré via UN Geneva/flickr/cc)

Amid escalating tensions between Russia and the U.S., former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged the two nations to "return to sanity" and said President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin should meet to engage in diplomacy rather than military confrontation over Syria.

Speaking to Interfax news agency, Gorbachev said Tuesday, "I am very alarmed."

"The situation hasn't been this bad in a long time, and I am very disappointed in how world leaders are behaving themselves. We see evidence of an inability to use diplomatic mechanisms. International politics has turned into exchanges of accusations, sanctions, and even military strikes," he said.

While he feels certain "no one wants a war," he noted the current "febrile atmosphere" and said that "ordinary people are not yet aware of the threat hanging over them."

"Ordinary people are not yet aware of the threat hanging over them."Because Russia and the U.S. are at the sharp end of the current crisis, their leaders must meet," the Nobel Peace Prize laureate urged. "They need to meet half-way, for a day or two of serious negotiations with involvement from foreign and defense ministers."

Writing at TIME magazine last month—weeks before Trump warned that missiles "will be coming" at Syria and Russia's warning that any such missiles and their launch sites would be targeted in retaliation—Gorbachev argued that the achievements he and former President Ronald Reagan reached in terms of nuclear deescalation "are in jeopardy."

"More and more," he wrote, "defense planning looks like preparation for real war amid continued militarization of politics, thinking, and rhetoric."

Noting that the symbolic Doomsday Clock nudged forward this year to just two minutes before midnight, he wrote, "The alarm that people feel today is fully justified."

Given "this new round of militarization," he said "we must demand that world leaders return to the path of dialogue and negotiations."

Ultimately, he argued, "A world without nuclear weapons: There can be no other final goal."

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