Washington — I have ended up deeply involved in the United States-Soviet relationship. I have a major arms control unit in this office that I oversee, and, of course, NATO is a part of my responsibilities, so I am in the fabled interagency community of Washington.'' The speaker is Rozanne Ridgway. Not exactly a household name like that of her boss, Secretary of State George Shultz. But as assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, and the senior ranking woman in the State Department, Rozanne Ridgway is no stranger to the world's high-level diplomatic circles.
She was a member of the US diplomatic team that accompanied President Reagan to Iceland last month for the Reykjavik summit. And she was one of only two Americans involved in secret negotiations to free U.S. News & World Report correspondent Nicholas Daniloff after his arrest in Moscow in September.
``One of the nicest phone calls I was ever able to make,'' Ms. Ridgway says, ``was to call Helsinki Watch in New York and tell the staff there that Yuri Orlov would be leaving the Soviet Union, and [ask] could they help us in receiving him in the United States.'' Mr. Orlov, a leading Soviet dissident, was permitted to leave the Soviet Union as part of the arrangements under which Mr. Daniloff returned to the United States.
This week, Ridgway is with Secretary Shultz in Vienna for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, where representatives from the 35 nations that signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975 are reviewing the agreements, and where US and Soviet diplomats are expected to hold private talks on a range of issues.
Chatting in her spacious office on the sixth floor of the State Department recently, Ridgway reflected on her 30 years as a career diplomat.
She grew up in a modest home in St. Paul, Minn. Her father was a gas station attendant; her mother raised three children. Ridgway worked her way through high school selling Montgomery Ward catalogs, then took a degree in political science from Hamline University in St. Paul. Nine days after graduation, she entered the United States Foreign Service. In those days, the State Department was the epitome of a man's world, and there were some obstacles for a woman.
``I suppose looking back over the years, I could say that my first years in the service had obstacles in them, but some of them were credibility obstacles. I was 21 years old. I wouldn't have asked me to make major foreign policy decisions, and I think as a young woman who had never lived overseas, I was seen as someone who might not seriously understand all of the meaning of a career in diplomacy.
``At the end of seven years, I was still fond of the service; evidently the service saw some reason to keep me on board, and I started doing the kind of work that I'm doing now - political analysis on the European scene.''
In 1975 Ridgway was named deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries. She traveled the world, putting together 19 treaties in 18 months. In 1977, she was appointed US ambassador to Finland, the first US woman career officer to land a European embassy.
In 1980 she worked on the Madrid human rights conference and helped coordinate policy on Poland. Three years later she was off to head the US Embassy in East Berlin. At the same time, she met Theodore Deming, her future husband.
``My career was taking me to East Germany and his career was taking him to a command in Alaska with the Coast Guard, jobs each of us wanted very much. We talked about it, but it was quite clear that I wasn't prepared at that point to be the commanding officer's wife in Alaska, and he didn't see himself in the role of ambassador's husband in East Germany. We agreed we would each take our assignments. [Being a two-career couple] is not easy; it's very personal for each couple.''
Not everyone can cope easily with living out of suitcases - an inevitable part of a Foreign Service officer's life.
But Ridgway says, ``I like the change. It means that my basic conservative nature has given me the same employer for nearly 30 years, and in those 30 years, I've made 15 moves, so I have a little bit of both worlds. It's always fresh.
``I never stay very long; I think the longest I've ever stayed in a place is three years in Norway in the late 1960s. I have all of that security which they say that people coming out of the universities in the 1950s were seeking, and I still have a little bit of the suitcase life that people in the 1960s said they wanted. And I find it keeps one young.''
Are there any specific things that the State Department is looking for?
``It's difficult to say. So often one hears [that] this year they're looking for Soviet specialists, the next year they're looking for people who can go out and assist our embassies to catch up with the 20th century in systems management, or they're looking for a set of languages, or for skills in arms control.
However, I think what State really needs ... is a group of people broadly educated. I would say [the Foreign Service needs people grounded in] history, economics, and Shakespeare, individuals who have a sense of integrity and principle which is unshakable.''
Ridgway is asked if she has ever had to compromise her ethics in high-level negotiations.
``There have been times when I have been a participant in deep and very serious discussions as to which course of action our country should follow: when an array of five or six possible courses of action presented themselves, each with arguments in favor, each with arguments against; when I have found myself centering my preferences around one of those options and the leadership of the government of the time ... has chosen another. And I was in a position in which I had to carry [the decision] out.
``I have never encountered a time when I could not carry that decision out. I haven't encountered a time when I would have to say, `No, I can't do that,' and leave. That's not an ethical question, and I think on ethics, integrity, lying, cheating, stealing, there is no line. You cannot compromise on that.''
Where is Rozanne Ridgway headed? She says she has no political ambitions; her years in the Foreign Service have all but prevented that. She hints at a job in private business, but it's clear that the life of a career diplomat has had many rewards.
``I didn't at that time - looking across all the years that have passed, nearly 30 of them now - see myself in my current position. I just enjoyed what I was doing, and it still feels as if it were 10 years, not 30.''