187. Memorandum for the Record of the President’s Dinner, President’s Villa, Geneva, July 18, 1955, 8 p.m.1



  • U.S.
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Mr. Hagerty
    • Mr. Merchant
    • Mr. MacArthur
    • Ambassador Bohlen
    • Ambassador Thompson
    • Major John Eisenhower
  • USSR
    • Premier Nikolai Bulganin
    • Mr. Nikita Khrushchev
    • Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov
    • General Georgiy Zhukov
    • Ambassador Andreiy Gromyko
    • Mr. O.A. Troyanovsky (interpreter)

Before dinner in the garden the Secretary had a talk with Bulganin, with Ambassador Bohlen interpreting. When joined by Mr. Merchant, Bulganin was saying with great earnestness (patting his heart in an apparent effort to emphasize the point) that we must believe that the Soviets have no evil intentions with regard to us. On that he gave his personal word of honor. Continuing the conversation, the Secretary said that the Premier must understand that the subject of the satellites was a genuine source of tension between us. There were millions of Americans whose origins were in Central and Eastern Europe. They had very strong feelings over the captivity of the Eastern European countries. The Secretary went on to say that we had no desire that the Soviet Union should be ringed by a group [Page 373] of hostile states. In order to avoid this, however, it was not necessary that they be satellites. There was the example of Finland for instance. Bulganin (who visibly froze up at this point) replied in effect that these countries have governments of their own choosing and that our expressed position on this point was not one which could be usefully pressed. This was a situation which would take care of itself with the passage of time.

During the dinner, the conversation at the President’s end of the table was carried by the President himself.2 Bulganin was responsive. Until the latter part of the dinner Molotov did not enter to any appreciable extent in the conversation though he was an attentive listener. Among passages the following came up: The President described at length his experience from D-Day through the succeeding weeks. Bulganin was obviously interested and asked many questions. The President referred to the heavy damage caused by the unprecedented storm in the Channel ten days or so after the first landing. He referred to Stalin’s interest in logistics during conversations with him in the latter part of the war. Bulganin asked if the story of the invasion had been written up. The President said that the Historical Division of the Army had completed a detailed history on the operation a year or so ago. Bulganin expressed an interest in reading it and the President promised to send him a copy. Bulganin said, “the campaign in the West, particularly the problem of the landings in France, is not well understood in Russia”.

The President raised the question of the satellites. He explained that there were literally millions of Americans who had their roots and origins in Central Europe. The status of the satellites was a matter of very genuine concern to him. This was not a question on which we could be silent. Bulganin indicated that it was a subject which it would do no good to pursue at this conference: it would require time and an improvement in the atmosphere. Bulganin said that if he did anything about it at this conference he would not be allowed to return to the Soviet Union. The President said that Bulganin should not be misled into thinking that interest in the matter would subside in the United States.

Bulganin expressed the warmest feelings of friendship for the American people and government and for the President. The President said that these feelings were reciprocated by the American people and by him, but he wished to point out that no matter how well this conference should turn out, the press in the United States was not controlled and some of it would undoubtedly continue to [Page 374] say unpleasant things about the Soviet Union. Papers like the Chicago Tribune, for example, might continue violently to attack the Soviet Union even though this meeting had had some success in reducing sources of tension between the two countries. The President doubted, however, whether the press would say anything worse about Premier Bulganin than they might say about the President himself. Bulganin replied that it was similar in Russia, where they did not control the press and had to reckon with public opinion.

Premier Bulganin stressed that the conference had gotten off to a good start and that while there were many problems of great difficulty they could surely make progress at the conference given this good beginning. He mentioned that the Soviet Government entirely supported the suggestion that there should be greater contact between our people. In this connection mention was made that the agriculturists from both countries had arrived in the United States and the U.S.S.R. yesterday. The President observed that these delegations were small and said there should have been 200. Premier Bulganin said he quite agreed and they were prepared to increase such exchanges. The President pointed out that he would do his best to facilitate such exchanges but the development of the appropriate atmosphere would take time and he could not say what Congress would do in this connection but that the Premier could count on his support for developing these exchanges.

Later on in the discussion the President said he hoped Secretary Dulles could visit the Soviet Union and referred to the great pleasure and benefit he had personally had from his visit there.

When the time came for toasts, Molotov said that there had been many meetings of the Foreign Ministers, including ones at which he and Mr. Dulles had been at odds, but that it was his hope there would be generated a spirit at the Geneva meeting which would permit the “translation of words into deeds”, and thereby ease the task of the Foreign Ministers at their future meetings and hence he would propose a toast to the successful work of the Foreign Ministers in the future.

The Secretary’s reply was to the general effect that for ten years now he had participated in Foreign Ministers meetings with Mr. Molotov and that they had engaged in many debates. He felt that at the Geneva conference the lot of the Foreign Ministers was an easier one in that if things went wrong the responsibility would rest on the Heads of Government.

Toward the latter part of dinner Bulganin leaned confidentially toward the President and said that he would like to tell him something out of the hearing of Secretary Dulles. Russia was not weak. In fact it had never been stronger. Their production was high, their army, as Marshal Zhukov would testify, was strong and well-equipped, [Page 375] they had great natural resources and were not dependent upon trade even in the matter of the import of strategic materials. Moreover in two years their agriculture would show great increase in production. Finally they had their people solidly behind the government as never before. In fact they had been able to do a number of things recently which had increased public support. It would, therefore, be a great mistake to believe that they were weak and that their desire to improve relations with the United States sprang from weakness.

The President replied that the United States did not consider the Soviet Union weak but on the contrary a great and powerful country.

At one point in the discussion Ambassador Thompson remarked that one thing the United States and the Soviet Union had in common was the effect upon their national characters of the great size of their territories and the fact that their early history had been dominated by the fact that they had a vast territory in which to expand. The President picked up this theme and said that for this reason the Soviet Union and the United States, unlike many of the countries of Europe, thought in big terms and that small bits of territory did not have the same significance for them. Ambassador Thompson remarked that the final settlement of the Trieste question hinged on an area smaller than an American ranch. Bulganin nodded and said that during his recent visit to Yugoslavia he had visited a point from which he could look down on Trieste and said you could see the whole thing from this point.

[Here follows discussion of an unrelated matter.]

Bulganin during the entire evening appeared to fill the position of leader of the Delegation. There was an obvious effort, however, to push Marshal Zhukov forward and to enable him to have direct conversations with the President. Khrushchev was jolly in a rather folksy fashion but quite obviously on his good behavior.3 Molotov was somewhat reticent. Gromyko gave evidence of making a major effort to appear agreeable.

[Page 376]

Both during dinner and over coffee afterwards in the living room there was considerable discussion, principally between the President and Bulganin, on the futility of war in the atomic age. The President called on Ambassador Bohlen to repeat his earlier comment that whereas in the past “when diplomacy failed war took over”, under existing circumstances “since war had failed, diplomats must take over”. The President with great earnestness told Bulganin at the table that under present conditions he was an old-fashioned soldier. He said that the development of modern weapons was such that a country which used them genuinely risked destroying itself. Since the prevailing winds went east to west and not north to south, a major war would destroy the Northern Hemisphere and he had no desire to leave all life and civilization to the Southern Hemisphere.

The President’s toast was to Voroshilov as Chief of State of the Russian people and to the hope that the friendship between the peoples of Russia and the United States which existed during the war would be restored.

Bulganin’s toast in reply was lofty in sentiment and in effect to the birth of a spirit at this conference which would make it possible to deal successfully with the problems which confronted us. Some of these it would take time to solve.

Neither Mr. Merchant nor Ambassador Thompson noticed any conversation with respect to disarmament, the reunification of Germany or European security.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–GE/7–1855. Confidential. Drafted by Thompson and Merchant on July 19. For three other reports on this dinner, see infra and Documents 191 and 192. For President Eisenhower’s and Merchant’s accounts, see Mandate for Change, pp. 517–518, and Recollections, pp. 32–33. John Eisenhower recorded his impressions of the dinner on pp. 13–19 of his diary. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File) At the same time that this dinner was taking place Colonel Robert Schulz, Army Aide to the President, gave a buffet supper for four of the Soviet security personnel. A brief memorandum of that conversation is in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 63 D 123, CF 515.
  2. President Eisenhower sat at one end of the table with Molotov on his left and Bulganin on his right. Secretary Dulles sat at the other end flanked by Zhukov and Khrushchev.
  3. In another draft of this memorandum the following passage appeared at this point:

    “When the cocktail orders were taken and the Russians asked for vodka, with the exception of Gromyko, who took water in deference to his chronic stomach difficulty, the vodka appeared in handsomely large tumblers with a cake or two of ice in them. Bulganin and Molotov expressed some trepidation and an order was immediately given for the highball glasses to be picked up while a tray of more moderately sized glasses full of vodka was brought. Khrushchev relinquished his large drink with obvious reluctance under the watchful eye of Bulganin. Khrushchev at no time made any effort to dominate the conversation. Molotov similarly was somewhat reticent. Gromyko was as sour as usual though gave some evidence of making a major effort to appear agreeable.” (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 63 D 123, CF 516)

  4. After dinner President Eisenhower, in front of all the Soviet guests, said that he hoped to have a chance to talk with Zhukov about their war experiences. As he was leaving Zhukov told Bohlen that he was ready at any time and date to meet the President. (USDEL/MC/20, July 30; ibid., Central Files, 396.1–GE/7–2355)