No. 741

711.5622/12–2051: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union 1

top secret

435. We are gravely concerned at implications and potential consequences of suggestion contained in Vishinsky’s speech in Comite I on Dec 292 to effect that Amer flyers forced down in Hung are spies and saboteurs and “he hopes that they will receive the attention of mil justice”. It seems to us that if Sovs actually contemplate trying these men on espionage charges they may have seriously underestimated intensity of reaction thereto which will undoubtedly occur in this country and it is just possible that if they are made aware of risks involved they might consider further before embarking on such a dangerous course.

Accordingly pls see Gromyko earliest. Point out to him that US Govt is gravely concerned at developments in matter of this airplane and its crew. State that Sovs have no doubt satisfied themselves that plane was unarmed transport on innocent flight from Ger to Yugo with normal cargo and standard equipment and that it became lost apparently due to navigational error and was over Hung wholly inadvertently. While Sov action in forcing plane to land and detaining crew incommunicado for two weeks has been noted, US Govt has heretofore been negotiating with Hung Govt for return of crew and plane inasmuch as Hungs confirmed reports that plane and crew had eventually been turned over to them. It has been assumed that, despite irregularity of Sov and Hung failure to do so expeditiously, return of crew and plane wld be accomplished at an early date without introduction of further obstacles. [Page 1474] However Vishinsky’s speech on Dec 19 in Comite I, which we can only assume was made in the heat of debate without mature consideration, has the gravest of implications not only in its effect on Hung auths but also because it has evoked the most adverse reaction from US public. If four innocent USAF flyers should, in fact, be brought to trial, Amer people will be incensed and their reaction will be literally incalculable. You should point out how harmful indeed reckless it is for Sov FonMin to take the line Mr. Vishinsky has, presumably in the heat of debate. We assume that the Sov Govt has the same interest as we have in reducing the serious tensions which already exist. Vishinsky’s statement has grave implications to the contrary. However, we believe and hope that Sovs will use influence to bring about early release of flyers.

If Gromyko asks whether there is any threat implied in your presentation, you shld state that no threat is implied but rather our endeavor is to bring to the Sov Govt’s urgent attention a situation which, particularly under present circumstances, we feel is a grave danger to all concerned.

We wld envisage your remarks along the foregoing line being set forth to Gromyko orally and wld not anticipate your making any written communication to him in matter. However, if you consider it desirable, there wld be no objection to your leaving with him an informal summary. Unless subsequent Sov action shld make it necessary, we do not plan to make any public statement in connection with approach.

  1. Drafted by Barbour (EUR/EE), cleared by Bonbright (EUR), Bohlen (C), and Matthews (G), and personally signed by Secretary Acheson.
  2. Telegram 244 to Budapest, December 19, transmitted relevant excerpts from Foreign Minister Vishinsky’s speech during a debate on December 19 in the UN General Assembly’s First Committee:

    “Inveighing against MSA as ‘aggression against USSR’ Vishinsky referred plane incident and said ‘fliers were arrested and due attn was paid them by (Hung) frontier auths, and I hope that all due attn will be given them by mil justice forces’. Reiterated charges that overflight deliberate for purpose spying and added assertion fliers themselves were ‘spies and saboteurs’. Also threatened ‘if these flights continue, we shall take measures and you shall see what will happen’ and boasted that US had to use spies and saboteurs ‘because ur tanks cannot stand against our tanks; ur fighters cannot stand against ours’. In apparent slip of tongue, Vishinsky also asked ‘Why was that plane over Sov territory’”. (711.5622/12–1951)

    The debate was part of the consideration of the proposed Soviet agenda item of “Complaint of aggressive acts of the United States and its interference in the domestic affairs of other countries”.