No. 497
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Ambassador-designate to the Soviet Union (Kennan)1



  • Luncheon Conversation at the Soviet Embassy


  • Ambassador Panyushkin
  • Mr. Boris I. Karavaev, Counselor of the Soviet Embassy
  • Ambassador-designate George F. Kennan
  • Richard H. Davis, EE

I telephoned Ambassador Panyushkin on April 2 to invite him to have luncheon with me and one other officer of the Department and was met by his counter-invitation that I have luncheon with him today at 1 p.m. at the Soviet Embassy, which I accepted.

We were met at the door of the Embassy by Mr. Myshkov and escorted upstairs to the large reception room facing 16th Street where Ambassador Panyushkin and Mr. Karavaev were waiting to greet us. During the five minute conversation before luncheon over a cocktail seated in the reception room, our conversation was devoted to climate and meteorological conditions.

At the luncheon table at which there were only the four of us, served by a single maid, the conversation took a more natural, practical turn. I had the impression during the course of our conversation at the table and afterwards over coffee that the Soviet Ambassador and his Counselor were pleased at the opportunity to receive us in this informal fashion and to talk in general about things without undue emphasis on political differences. I purposely avoided contradicting or entering into a debate with them upon some of the ideas they expressed.

Possibly the chief points of interest in our two hours’ conversation, conducted entirely in Russian, were these:


The Ambassador spoke of the shallowness of understanding in this country which was prevalent not only among average Americans but even among those intellectually above average with relation to the Soviet Union and its purposes. Both he and Mr. Karavaev told stories of how their countrymen when identifying themselves as Russians had encountered on the part of Americans incredulity and expressions of “Impossible, where is your beard?” or [Page 969] “Why aren’t you black?” The Ambassador stated with obvious feeling that he had heard intelligent Americans refer to his countrymen as “barbarians.”

This line of thought among other things which the Ambassador said revealed that they have become aware and sensitive to those reflections of present tensions in the relations between our two countries, which they have personally encountered.

The Ambassador talked at some length about “correspondents” and “journalists”, the former being defined as those who wrote down without understanding that which they heard and saw and the “journalists” being described as those who observed well and understood the implications behind facts and events which they were able to interpret for their readers. He then went on to refer to Walter Lippman, Arthur Krock and James Reston, about whom he seemed to have a respectful opinion. Lippman, he thought, was experienced and an independent thinker. He was particularly curious about Reston, whose position and qualifications apparently baffled him.

The Soviet Ambassador then brought up the recent replies made by J. V. Stalin to the questions of certain U.S. newspaper editors2 and complained that Stalin’s statements were so often brushed aside as mere propaganda in this country. He referred in a serious tone to Stalin’s statements as “most authoritative—more so than those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

It may be that, in view of Lippman’s recent articles criticizing our reply to the Soviet note on Germany and Stalin’s reply to the effect that he considered this an opportune time for the unification of Germany, the Ambassador was attempting indirectly to draw me out on our attitude toward the German question. He did not press the matter when he failed to obtain any reaction.

At about this time, Mr. Karavaev broke in to remark that there were not any questions which the Soviet Government was not willing to discuss wth us, that the Soviet Government, as it had made clear by repeated statements, was willing at any time to enter upon discussions leading to a settlement of any existing problems.
The Ambassador spoke of his service in China with evident nostalgia and with warm feeling for the great qualities of the Chinese people. He revealed that his twenty year old son had always had an inclination toward the study of the Chinese and other Siberian languages and was now studying at the Oriental Institute in Moscow. His other son, fifteen years old, had always had, on the other hand, a penchant for mechanical things although still in the 8th year class.

In our conversation I tried and, I think, succeeded in conveying the impression that I had no special proposals to make after my [Page 970] arrival in Moscow; that the problems between our countries were not easy nor quick of solution and that I saw only a long road ahead if we were to improve the present atmosphere.

The Soviet Ambassador obviously had had no time to receive instructions from Moscow as to the conduct of his conversation at our luncheon, and it is perhaps for this reason that he himself did not attempt to turn it into a political debate. Nevertheless, I thought there was a note of relief and even genuine cordiality on the part of our Soviet hosts that they could talk with us in this free and informal way. Perhaps it was also noteworthy that our hosts, while pleasant and hospitable, made no effort to ply us with drinks or turn the occasion into one of false conviviality.

  1. Drafted by Davis and read, corrected, and approved by Kennan. Kennan’s diary (Memoirs, 1950–1963, pp. 107–108) contains a brief description of this luncheon meeting.
  2. On Mar. 31, Stalin replied to four questions submitted to him by a group of American editors. In his answers, Stalin indicated that he thought war was no closer than it had been two or three years earlier and that a meeting of the heads of the great powers might be helpful. For text of the questions and answers. see New York Times, Apr. 2, 1952; Documents on American Foreign Relations, 1952, p. 103; or Documents (R.I.I.A.) for 1952, p. 224.