Late US president Ronald Reagan tried to convert Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Christianity in an effort to end the Cold War, declassified notes show.
The claim appears in a new biography of Reagan, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the Cold War by James Mann, an extract from which appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Australian reports.
Mann relies on recently declassified notes by aides who were present at meetings between Mr Gorbachev and Reagan. He says Reagan expressed dismay that his own son, Ron, did not believe in God.
Apparently embarrassed, or perhaps uninterested, Mr Gorbachev tried to change the topic.
Mann says Reagan met Mr Gorbachev several times in the company of senior aides before he tried, during his first "one on one" with the then Soviet leader, to convince him of the existence of God.
The Reagan-Gorbachev summits, designed to bring an end to the Cold War, took place between 1985 and 1988. According to Mann, Reagan noted Mr Gorbachev's use of the words "God bless" and wondered whether they were an expression of religious faith.
According to the notes, Mr Gorbachev told Reagan that "he, himself, had been baptised, but he was not now a believer, and that reflected a certain evolution of Soviet society."
The US president told one of his trademark stories about the widow of a young World War II soldier, who "was lying in a shell hole at midnight, awaiting an order to attack."
"He had never been a believer, because he had been told God did not exist," Reagan said. "But as he looked up at the stars he voiced a prayer hoping that, if he died in battle, God would accept him. That piece of paper was found on the body of a young Russian soldier who was killed in that battle."
Mann says Mr Gorbachev "tried to switch the subject" to greater cooperation in space, "but the president wasn't to be diverted."
Mann writes: "According to the transcript, Reagan told Mr Gorbachev that space was in the direction of heaven, but not as close to heaven as some other things that they had been discussing."
Reagan tried to convert Gorbachev to Christianity (The Australian)
Ronald Reagan (Wikipedia)
Mikhail Gorbachev (Wikipedia)