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Unidentified Actors Played Big Summit Roles

November 24, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Their faces showed up in newspaper photos or on television whispering in President Reagan’s ear or listening intently to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

But three Americans who played crucial roles at the Geneva summit never got star billing. In fact the president’s three interpreters were never even introduced.

″Let’s face it, war and peace can rest on their shoulders,″ said a State Department official, speaking on condition he remain anonymous.

The State Department interpreters, William D. Krimer, William Hopkins and Dimitry Zarechnak, do more than simply translate English into Russian.

They also take verbatim notes, and in the more than five hours of private meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev, those notes became the written record of what transpired when the superpower leaders huddled alone.

Although Hopkins was part of the official interpreting team, he did not work in the private meetings. Krimer and Zarechnak took turns on those tete-a- tetes.

The pressure is so intense and the routine so grueling that the interpreters need time to recuperate after coming off a trip like the summit, said Stephanie van Reigersberg, chief of the department’s interpreting staff.

″Fortunately, there aren’t summits very often,″ she said.

Hopkins and Zarechnak are both full-time department employees; Krimer, described by Mrs. van Reigersberg as the country’s most experienced Russian interpreter, came out of retirement to work at the summit under a special contract.

He is viewed as the grandfather of the Russian language division at State and has attended every summit since the 1950s, Mrs. van Reigersberg said.

When Reagan and Gorbachev met alone, as they did for more than half of the nine hours they spent together over two days, each brought an interpreter along for consecutive translation.

Those four men were privy to exactly what took place, and the interpreters are not free to discuss what they know.

In consecutive translation, the American interpreter takes notes while Reagan speaks and then translates those words into Russian. He also writes down what Gorbachev says, but the Russian-into-English is the responsibility of the Soviet interpreter.

After the Gorbachev-Reagan meetings, the interpreter transcribes his notes. Copies are sent to the president and a restricted group of top advisers, the State Department said.

The Soviets and the United States do not exchange transcripts so each doesn’t have the other’s version.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan also told his advisers his recollection of the meetings, but he did not take notes.

The original summit plan called for Reagan and Gorbachev to spend most of their time in formal plenary sessions with aides, interpreters and official note-takers present.

In those sessions, translation was to be done simultaneously, with the principals wearing headphones.

Instead the leaders opted for the more private discussions, banishing staff from their midst. Thus, the interpreters’ role was elevated.

Usually, an interpreter’s notes are burned, Mrs. van Reigersberg said. But in the case of the summit, the notes will likely be kept in the interpreter’s safe in case officials need to refer to them.

″Only the interpreter can read the notes,″ she said, adding most use stenographer’s pads for their note-taking and carry a clump of pens.

Interpreters cannot use shorthand because that system is based on phonetics, which doesn’t work when switching from one foreign language to another.

Their notes generally take from form of diagramming, with the main part of the idea placed in the left-hand margin and subordinate clauses in the right. ″It’s like a road map,″ she said.

The interpreters chosen for the summit, along with the two women who served Nancy Reagan in Geneva, are the cream of the department’s Russian-speaking staff.

Krimer, who is over 70, and Zarechnak, 41, are both Russian speakers from birth. Krimer was born in Berlin while Zarechnak came to the United States from Czechoslovakia at age 4.

While Hopkins did not speak Russian as a mother tongue, he learned it in college and spent long periods of time in the Soviet Union.

All three men have wide experience. They have worked at arms control talks in Geneva and at other U.S.-Soviet meetings. Hopkins and Zarechnak recently accompanied Secretary of State George Shultz to Moscow for meetings with the Soviet foreign minister.

Mrs. Reagan’s interpreters for the summit were State Department consultants. Joining her at teas with Raisa Gorbachev and other functions were Deborah Garretson, a professor of Russian at Mount Holyoke College, and Eugenia Arensburger, who works on a free-lance basis.

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