{Do} you think the Soviets are really going to withdraw from Afghanistan, withdraw their troops, and if so, why?

I believe they are, and {Lt. Gen.} Colin {L.} Powell and George {P.} Shultz have been there in the Soviet Union and come back. They're convinced that they really want to get out of there. I think that a large part of that could be the economic situation in the Soviet Union and the fact that, after going on nine years, it's still a stalemate. So I think that there's reason to believe that they really want out.

How much of a role has the support that we have given to the Afghan rebels had to do with this Soviet decision . . . ?

I think it would only have to do with the decision on the basis that, as long as the mujaheddin were being supplied with weapons and ammunition, they just couldn't be defeated . . . . most people don't understand that, when you're up against a kind of guerrilla operation, the normal military has to outnumber the guerrillas roughly 10 to 1 to be equal because of the nature of the way they fight. They strike and disappear and so forth, and they've been a very effective fighting force, the mujaheddin.

What do you think the prospects are now for you and Mr. {Soviet leader Mikhail} Gorbachev actually signing a treaty in Moscow that would reduce strategic nuclear arsenals, as you have proposed, by 50 percent?

That would be nice, if it could happen, but I have to tell you that common sense indicates that the time is too limited for us to really think that we could bring a treaty ready for signature to that meeting . . . . this one is so much more complicated with regard to verification and everything else than the INF {Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces} Treaty, which we were able to bring together. But even that took a few months to do. So we're not going to be disappointed . . . . we're not at this moment anticipating that it would be ready for signature then.

If you can't get it signed there, are you going to try to get it wrapped up during your presidency, or . . . do you see perhaps announcing those things you do agree on and leaving the foundation for the next administration to build on?

I believe with the amount of time that would still be remaining that, if there is sincerity on both sides with regard to getting such an agreement -- and I think there is -- I think that could be done . . . before my time expired . . . .

You'll be meeting with Mr. Gorbachev for the fourth time, the most contact between a U.S. and Soviet president since the World War II period, I believe. Do you think he really is a different kind of leader than the Soviets have had before?

Yes, I do, having met most of them . . . . I think that one difference is that he is the first leader that has come along who has gone back before {Joseph} Stalin and that he is trying to do what {Vladimir} Lenin was teaching . . . . with Lenin's death, Stalin actually reversed many of the things. Lenin had programs that he called the new economics and things of that kind. And I've known a little bit about Lenin and what he was advocating, and I think that this, in glasnost and perestroika and all that, this is much more smacking of Lenin than of Stalin. And I think that this is what he is trying to do.

Does the world look different to you now than it did when you entered this Oval Office 7 1/2 years ago? . . . .Do you have a different view of the Soviets, a different view of anything in the world you deal with?

When you . . . take the Soviets, remember that, in my first coming to office and for a few years there, they kept dying on me. They had three leaders, and they were, I think, of a different philosophy than this one. But generally . . . I have to remember that there weren't too many surprises. First of all, a governor's job is an executive job.

And you know that you sit at the desk where the buck does stop and, when the decisions have to be made, you have to make them. And even with regard to the principal difference, which would be foreign policy, I recall to you that a former president several times asked me to represent him abroad in meetings with heads of state. I had been in 18 different countries on trips of that kind before I came to this job, so it wasn't a complete, sudden immersion in foreign policy.

I was thinking more of whether your own opinions of dealing with crises or dealing with difficult foreign policy and domestic problems had changed during this period of time you'd been in office.

Maybe I was blessed in one way. When I became governor of California, I walked into a situation that was very similar to the one I walked into here . . . . even though California's constitution said you had to have a balanced budget and the new governor in California comes in in the middle of the fiscal year -- and I came in and found that, while it had been sort of glossed over during the campaign, there was a sizable deficit already piled up in that first year. And I had to within six months . . . resolve that and wind up the year with a balanced budget.

. . . Coming in here with the economic things that we had and the double-digit inflation and so forth . . . was almost like a repeat. And . . . the thing of somebody handing you a piece of paper every night that told you what you're going to be doing every half hour the next day, that wasn't new to me. That happened in California, too.

So you're saying essentially the kinds of problems that you had to deal with and the way you dealt with them, you already had formed your pattern of doing that while you were governor . . ?

Yes. It was one . . . of delivering authority back to local communities, counties and communities that I didn't think were properly functions of the state government. Here, we've called the program "federalism" because I think that, over the years and over the decades, the federal government has assumed authority and autonomy that properly belonged back at state govern- ment . . . .

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for president the first time . . . in his platform was the promise to return to the states and local governments authority and autonomy that he said had been unjustly seized by the federal government. Well, by the time I got here, it not only had been unjustly seized, they had added to it . . . .

Another one of FDR's promises . . . was to balance the budget, and it was also something you wanted to do. And without going into the business of who is responsible . . . you're going to leave office, there is going to be a sizable deficit. Do you think that this is going to have a negative consequence on the next generations? Is this going to be a real burden for the country?

It's a burden. There's no question about that. But . . . not the disaster some people proclaim. Now, for me to say that is really a reversal of roles because, way back before I ever thought I would be governor, when I was just out making speeches on the mashed-potato circuit about things that I thought should be changed . . . I was complaining about the fact that, for almost 60 year now, with only eight single-year exceptions, this country had been running a deficit . . . .

But . . . no one seems to pay any attention to the great burden of the interest . . . . one of the major factors in our budget right now is the interest. But who gets that interest? And you find out then that a great many institutions, universities, educational institutions of all kinds, that part of their endowment are government bonds. And so a lot of that interest is going to them . . . . {and} to individual Americans . . . {as} part of their savings, instead of putting it in the bank or something.

So, instead of it being something that's just disappearing down a rat hole, it's a kind of a redistribution . . . of national wealth in that these institutions and so forth are getting this interest from the government. Now maybe some of them would have to be getting straight grants from the government if they were not getting that interest. So, no, I don't think it's disaster. I'm disappointed that we haven't been able to do better . . . the Congress added to that budget.

I'm wondering whether . . . there is a formula that would allow you to preserve SDI {the Strategic Defense Initiative} as a research-and-development program and still satisfy the Soviets in some way on that issue? Is there any meeting ground possible?

I can't see that at all as a bargaining chip . . . . they've spent 20 times as much as we have on defense programs . . . for years . . . . I think that one of the reasons that made them try to use it as a bargaining chip in which they would buy it with some arms reductions and so forth was because, knowing our technology and our ability in things of that kind, they were afraid and are afraid that we'll come up with it first.

. . . Remember that, if they had now an almost foolproof defense against our nuclear missiles at the same time they've got their nuclear missiles, they would have the ability for a first strike. They could hit us and, when we fired back, we couldn't hit them. They see the same thing for us. If we get SDI . . . and we still have these missiles that we have, they see a first-strike capability. Now the difference is, and it's almost impossible to convince them, we don't have any intention of a first strike . . . . There's no one in America wants to go to war with them.

So what's the way out of this?

We've stood firm. But I have told him {Gorbachev} every time . . . if it is that good, we are going to deploy it. We see it as the basis then for eliminating the strategic ballistic missiles on both sides. And I have even told him that I would be willing to see this shared . . . .

Mike Deaver {former White House deputy chief of staff}, Lyn Nofziger {former White House political director}, who were convicted and who worked for you a long time . . . I wonder if what's happened to them, plus the constant fire that {Attorney General} Ed Meese seems to be under, whether you are saddened by what's happened here . . . ?

Of course, I am saddened . . . . I found all those individuals to be the very soul of integrity in the more than 20 years that I have known them. I can't comment too specifically because these cases now are in the courts and before the law . . . . And I don't know just exactly . . . how I could comment without maybe causing trouble for them. I want to see them all come out all right . . . . I have a feeling that there's a certain amount of politics involved in all of this and . . . that I'm really the target they would like to get at, and they are doing it by going after these other people . . . .

You said for a very long time that you were going to remain neutral in this campaign . . . . an overwhelming number of the voters who have supported Vice President Bush have been those voters, according to exit polls at least, who say they approve of your presidency. Without regard to your stance in neutrality . . . does Vice President Bush . . . carry on that legacy?.

. . . Trying to walk the thin line . . . in this office, you're titular head of the party, so therefore you have to be neutral in a primary situation. But I would have to point out . . . that George Bush as vice president has been a part of all that we've been doing . . . . Why do you let able-bodied manpower sit by? . . . . I always felt that . . . that man should be like an executive vice president in a corporation. He should be involved in what was going on and have assignments and so forth . . . .

I wonder if you, as you look at your own quite considerable career . . . especially in the presidency, if there's something you're particularly . . . proud of and if there's any area where you . . . have a regret or it hasn't come out the way you wanted it to come out?

I could tell you some things that struck my heart a number of times . . . . I think in these years here that the entire debate has been changed, that we once had a debate in which the two parties were divided . . . one of them battling for more and bigger government and the other one trying to at least hold the line, if not reduce it.

And in these several years, the debate has been . . . over how much do we cut. And, granted that they had not wanted to cut as much as I did . . . that it has been a totally different debate, and I think that's good . . . .

What would be your regret on the other side of that . . . ?

. . . Every time when you've had to order our young men to go into a position of danger and then to have a tragedy such as the one in Beirut, the terrible thing was they were actually succeeding in their mission and that's why the violence was turned on them . . . . The Challenger {shuttle explosion} . . . calls that have had to be made to families who have lost someone, such as the tragic mistake of that Iraqi airplane and our ship in the Persian Gulf. Those are things for which you have to be very sorry.

On the other hand, I . . . can't help but be proud that there is an island now down in the Caribbean where there aren't any signs "Yankee go home" but where somebody sent me a postcard the other day . . . a photograph of a wall . . . painted with all kinds of graffiti . . . about "God love the U.S.A." . . . . That was Grenada, of course.

Are you looking forward to this meeting with the NATO allies next week?

Yes, I really am. I think it's important to tell them . . . . we're not wavering {in support of the alliance}. In my speech the other day . . . to them, I said that, if somebody drops a bomb on Amsterdam, as far as we're concerned, it's the same as if they dropped it on Chicago.