203. Memorandum of the Conversation at the President’s Luncheon, President’s Villa, Geneva, July 20, 1955, 12:30 p.m.1
- The President
- Ambassador Bohlen
- Marshal Zhukov
- Mr. Troyanovsky
After he was met by the President at the doorway, Marshal Zhukov said he brought special greetings from Khrushchev and Bulganin for the President and their sincere thanks for the dinner the other evening.2 He added that Khrushchev and Bulganin had been greatly impressed and taken with the President.
The President asked Marshal Zhukov to take back his greetings also and to say that he had enjoyed very much meeting them.
Marshal Zhukov said that the regard with which the President was held in the Soviet Union dated from the period of the War and that even since then when certain aspects of the United States and its policy had been criticized or even attacked in the Soviet press, this had not extended personally to Mr. Eisenhower.
The President said that he did not go in for bad words and tried never to indulge in invective, although at all times he tried to speak the truth.
Marshal Zhukov replied that this was realized by the Soviet leaders and by the people of the Soviet Union and that is why Mr. Eisenhower was held in such regard in the Soviet Union.
The President said we have in America some people who go for invective but personally he did not.
Marshal Zhukov then stated that unfortunately the good relations which had developed during the war and the joint work that he and the President had done in the Allied Control Council had not continued and that the friendship between the United States and the Soviet Union had been disturbed. It must be recognized that the relationship was not normal and that this not only was detrimental to the interests of both countries but also to the cause of world peace. He recalled that during the closing stages of the war, the Hitlerite [Page 409] leadership had based all its military and political calculations on the possibility of setting the United States and the Soviet Union at loggerheads and thus disrupt the alliance. In the postwar period certain “dark forces” had been actively at work in order to undermine Soviet-American relations. He said as a soldier he wished to state with the utmost responsibility that the Soviet leaders, Party and Government, as well as the people of the Soviet Union, desire to see restored the closest and most friendly relations with the United States. He believed that the President and the Soviet Government should do something in order to do away with fears and suspicion and resume the good relations which previously had existed. Bad Soviet-American relations were to the advantage of these “dark forces” and even permitted some nations to fish in troubled waters. He said these forces pictured the Soviet Union as planning aggression and attacks on other countries, but that he was in a position to state and he would answer with his head for these words, that no one in the Soviet Government or the Central Committee of the Party had any such intentions. No one wished war with the United States nor with any other country. He said that with complete sincerity and with a sense of responsibility for his words. The Soviet Union had no need of war and were fed up to the teeth with war. Their main task was to improve their economy and raise the standard of living of their people.
The President said his entire experience in Berlin with Marshal Zhukov had led him to place credence in his statements, and he therefore believed what the Marshal had just told him.
Marshal Zhukov said he urged the President to believe him on his word as a soldier. He added that it is sometimes said that the Soviet Union maintains forces in a state of readiness to attack others. He would not conceal the fact that they had powerful armed forces, a strong ground army and air force, stock-piles of atom and hydrogen bombs and a very important strategic bombardment air force, but they had no hostile or evil intentions towards other countries. He said from time to time they hear statements from leaders of NATO of the readiness of that organization to annihilate the Soviet Union from the bases located close to the Soviet frontiers. He inquired of the President, as a great military commander, what the Soviet Union could be expected to do under such circumstances except look to its defenses. These armaments were, of course, a burden on the Soviet economy, but they do not wish a repetition of 1941, and no more than the United States could afford to play fast and loose with their security. He felt the two countries should work very seriously towards a détente, and while he knew the United States was a rich country, he believed people would welcome a relief from the armaments burden.[Page 410]
The President said Marshal Zhukov could be sure of that.
Marshal Zhukov said he would not hide from the President the fact that the only reason he had come to Geneva was to be able to see him personally and to have a heart to heart talk with him and to tell him as a soldier what he had on his mind. He felt the President could do much to help restore Soviet-American friendship.
The President at this point mentioned he had asked Ambassador Bohlen to make notes in order to have a personal record of the talk, but that these notes would not be official or form part of the official records.
Marshal Zhukov remarked that he did not see there would be much harm even if their conversation became known.
The President said he agreed that toward the end of the war relations with the Soviet Union seemed to be steadily improving, and he also regretted the deterioration of these relations in the postwar period. He felt one important factor that they should recognize was one of a psychological nature; that in Moscow the Soviet version of events was put forth to their people and that in the United States the course of events was set forth as we saw them. As a result, many millions of people in both countries had developed a state of fear and distrust of each other which he felt was a very important factor. He said it might be easy for two people such as himself and Marshal Zhukov who were old friends to agree that an improvement in relations was desirable, but neither one of them could control these factors, such as feelings of people. It was therefore not to be expected that any improvement could occur overnight but would take some time until the present psychological state of distrust and fear were overcome.
Marshal Zhukov said he agreed with the President on this point.
The President said he thought that he might review briefly our view of the course of events which had led to the present situation, although he did not expect the Marshal would agree. After World War II the United States had demobilized its forces to such an extent that we did not have sufficient for occupation duties in Western Germany, Japan and South Korea. This had been done because the United States believed that we were entering an era of peace. However, following the reduction of our forces, we began to be pushed around. For example, our friends in Greece were confronted with armed action against them which was supported from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Then there was the Berlin Blockade and in order to maintain our position there, we had developed the airlift. In China our wartime ally, and there might be various views on Chiang Kai-shek but he was our wartime ally, began to be pushed around by the Communists, and then finally, most important of all, there was the war in Korea. As a result of these events we undertook a program of [Page 411] armament. We came to the conclusion that we would have to take firmer action. One of the measures which we developed was the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance. The Soviet Union, through the exercise of its control of neighboring countries in Eastern Europe such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc., had already set up a monolithic military system. NATO was in part a response to this situation. It was, however, also designed in some of its manifestations to give France a sense of protection against Germany in the future. Out of this general situation began the arms race with the piling up of atomic weapons, the creation of large air fleets. All this was very costly, and in the President’s view would be unnecessary if, as Marshal Zhukov had stated, we could restore some degree of confidence and trust between our two countries.
At this point they proceeded into lunch.
Marshal Zhukov said he did not disagree entirely with what the President had said, although from their point of view there had been faults on the American side. Perhaps it was best to recognize that there had been faults on both sides and that it would be well not merely to review the mistakes of the past but to look to the future and see what could be done under present conditions.
The President agreed and said that as he had observed earlier situations of this kind could not be changed overnight because the feelings and concerns of millions of people were involved. He inquired where the Marshal saw a beginning.
Marshal Zhukov said it might be well to begin with small things, and possibly an end to polemics and invectives between our two countries might be a good beginning.
The President said that the Marshal must understand that in the United States there was a different system, and while he could control utterances of officials of the Executive Branch, he had no control whatsoever over the newspapers or over what Congress might say. What was necessary were some events or series of events which might change the psychological climate.
Marshal Zhukov said he fully realized the difference in the systems and agreed it would take time, but what was really important was the intention of the two Governments and that if there was a genuine desire to improve relations, that that was the central factor. Turning to disarmament, Marshal Zhukov said he thought that the arms race and some form of disarmament was important as well as a collective security system. He said no matter what might be said about military blocs, however much their defensive character might be stressed or believed in, a bloc remained a bloc, and personally, he was categorically against military blocs. He felt they generated suspicion and arms race and international tension by their very existence. It was important, therefore, to change blocs into friendly alliances [Page 412] based on a collective security system under which, if any member made trouble and threatened the peace, he would be put in a straight jacket by collective action.
The President remarked that this had been the purpose of the United Nations.
Marshal Zhukov agreed but said he did not wish to go into a review of UN history, but it did not fully achieve its purpose. He thought it important that gradually military blocs should be done away with.
The President said in the opinion of the Western Powers the Soviet control over Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries of Eastern Europe constituted a solid, monolithic military bloc, whereas in the West their association was composed of independent countries, each with its own point of view. He added that having said that, he was inclined to agree that blocs do give rise to suspicion and since they are always regarded as directed against other countries, are in somewhat of a contradiction with attempts to improve relations with those countries.
Marshal Zhukov said he agreed with the President and said that in regard to their bloc in Eastern Europe set up by the Warsaw Conference, they would gladly dissolve it and integrate it into an all-Europe security system. He thought that Bulganin’s proposal for gradual progress in two stages was a very useful proposal, but the Soviet Government would be glad to consider any other on this subject.3
The President said a very specific and important question in the disarmament field was that of inspection. He said it was realized that you could not inspect everything and if, in the United States, we wished to hide five hundred atomic bombs, no inspector could find them and the Soviet Union could do likewise, but nevertheless large installations such as airfields, long-range bombers and guided missile factories could not be hidden. He inquired whether the Marshal thought they could look forward to an institution of inspection of this type.
Marshal Zhukov said he was sure they could.
The President then inquired whether such inspection would be politically possible in the Soviet Union.
Marshal Zhukov said it would be entirely possible and while its detail should be studied, he was, in principle, in full agreement with the President’s remarks. He added that they should work seriously on the subject of collective security and a system of inspection designed to create confidence and assurance and not to deceive each [Page 413] other. As he understood it, the President was concerned with the possibility of a surprise attack.
The President said this was true, but it was also necessary to convey a feeling of confidence to the people in general. He said the people were now living in mortal fear, and while these fears may be exaggerated, they were generally held by millions of people and the fear of atomic destruction was very real.
Marshal Zhukov said he agreed with that but he had studied and seen with his own eyes on maneuvers the deadly powers of these weapons, and he fully understood the President’s concern.
The President said that not even scientists could say what would happen if two hundred H-bombs were exploded in a short period of time, but if atmospheric conditions were right, the fall-out might destroy entire nations and possibly the whole northern hemisphere.
Marshal Zhukov said that if on the first day of war the United States dropped three or four hundred bombs on the Soviet Union and they would do the same, it would be impossible to say what would happen to the atmosphere under those conditions. He said he was unqualifiedly for total abolition of weapons of this character.
The President repeated that before any such thing could be done there had to be genuine confidence among nations and that he had only mentioned the power of these weapons in order to emphasize the necessity of restoring confidence to the peoples of the world. He said if they proceeded step by step, they might begin in Central Europe where the experts could agree on the total number of forces to be stationed in that area and then have a system of reciprocal inspection. This inspection would not attempt to locate every bomb or weapon but would merely verify whether the force levels and installations agreed on were in conformity with the agreement. He envisaged this as a possible first step.
Marshal Zhukov said the main thing was to reduce forces.
The President replied that he agreed and had had in mind a reduction of the forces in this particular area.
Marshal Zhukov said that it should not be only in one area but should apply to the forces as a whole.
The President said he felt that the necessary first step was to have a demonstrably effective system of inspection and that while bombs could not be located in all cases, large installations could be.
Marshal Zhukov said that inspection is an important element in any disarmament system but the main thing was reduction in forces and abolition of atomic and hydrogen bombs. Controls would be the test of the good will of the participants. He felt, however, a first step in the general direction of restoration of confidence would be to start on a system of collective security. He said he attached great importance [Page 414] to this matter and felt that its members would have great responsibilities in restraining or punishing any would-be aggressor.
The President inquired whether he had any concrete suggestions in this field.
Marshal Zhukov replied that he thought the first step would be for the Four Powers assembled here in Geneva and all other European countries to agree on a treaty of collective security to which both parts of Germany could join, as a step towards eventual elimination of blocs.
The President inquired if this would be followed by reduction of arms and abolition of nuclear weapons.
Marshal Zhukov said without question, since he could not envisage a system of collective security that did not involve reduction of forces and abolition of nuclear weapons. He said such a system must be founded on friendship and confidence to which every participant would have a moral responsibility to prevent aggression.
The President said the Marshal was painting a picture of the ultimate stage about which we were all thinking but he felt we must go step by step and by stages.
Marshal Zhukov agreed, but he said the main thing was to set your goal and that the actual nature of the steps was a technical question. The main thing was the inclination and desire, regardless of other differences. He said, for example, that he and the President held different opinions on many subjects. This did not affect his respect for the President or the fact that he would value his friendship as long as he lived.
The President said he had the same feeling in regard to Marshal Zhukov. He said, however, that the Marshal had touched on a very important factor, that of difference of viewpoints. He said that many people had become acquainted with the writings of Marx, Lenin and Stalin, which dealt with the final destruction of capitalism, and in many parts authorized the use of force and violence if necessary. He said these views have not been repudiated by the Soviet leaders and this is one of the chief causes of alarm and apprehension on the part of the American people.
Marshal Zhukov stated that the alarm was not justified, that there was no apparatus in existence for the direction of Communist parties abroad and he could tell the President the secret and that was that the Cominform had had no meetings since 1949. He said if a directing center existed, they would unquestionably turn their attention to the American Communist party and endeavor in every way to increase its influence and enlarge its membership, but as is well known, the U.S. Communist party is the weakest of all Communist parties. This was a matter for the American people to decide for themselves. He continued that the theory of Marx had been in existence [Page 415] for over a century and that the political convictions were up to an individual. Furthermore, there were other theories such as capitalism and imperialism.
The President said he did not wish to get into an ideological dispute with Marshal Zhukov, but nevertheless the documents which he had referred to spoke of use of force in order to destroy capitalism. He was glad to hear from the Marshal that there was no central apparatus of direction, which appeared to indicate that certain parts of the doctrine had been forgotten or at least laid aside. He said he thought it was a pity that the two greatest countries in the world with the productive power which would have a great opportunity by working together to benefit themselves and the whole world, should have reached a point where their fears and suspicions interfered with any such relationship. He said he was equally anxious with the Marshal to do away with these barriers.
Marshal Zhukov said in regard to doctrine, he thought it was not a question of forgetting or laying aside any portion thereof. The Soviet Government believed that each country must find its way to a higher form of organization through its own means. Some might do so gradually and peacefully; others through war or revolution; and still others by different combinations. He said there is no single recipe applicable to all countries. Each country must decide for itself the nature of its own development. He said his country did not believe in interfering in internal affairs of other countries as this merely produced strains and tensions between them.
The President said this was an important statement since this problem had been the greatest single factor of fear and apprehension in the United States.
Marshal Zhukov said the Soviet Government was prepared to give any assurances on this point or sign any declaration to that effect.
The President said he had two points he wished to make to Marshal Zhukov of a somewhat different and possibly more minor nature. The first, which did not directly depend on the Soviet Government, and one that did. He said in the first instance he referred to Americans still held prisoner in China. He said when he came into the Presidency, he had wished to conclude an armistice in Korea, and one of the chief problems had been the action of the Chinese Communists in holding Americans prisoner. He said according to our information, there were some forty civilians and possibly around twelve military which the Chinese Communists still hold. He said he knew the Soviet Government did not control China, but he hoped Marshal Zhukov would do what he could as an exercise of his good offices to bring about the release of these men. He said it had been asserted that the United States was holding some Chinese students, [Page 416] but this was not so, and he would invite any form of inspection to verify the truth of this statement.
Marshal Zhukov replied that he had heard of thirteen American military personnel and that when he had received the President’s letter in reply to his on the release of Lysikov, he had sent this request on to China.4 The President was correct in saying that they had no control or influence over a matter which was a domestic affair of China, but that possibly the letter had had some effect in what he understood to have been the release of four Americans held prisoner. As to the others, he was convinced that if U.S. representatives would talk to representatives from China, the matter could be settled relatively easy if similar satisfaction was given to the other side.
Marshal Zhukov said that since the President had mentioned China, he would like to make some observations on the Chinese problem, the settlement of which was of great importance for the relaxation of tension. There was, first of all, the question of membership in the U.N. He was sure the President must recognize that in many respects it was abnormal that a nation of 600,000,000 people was not represented in this organization. He inquired why it was not possible to make them morally responsible for their international acts before world opinion in the U.N. He said there was also the question of these islands, Quemoy and Matsu, and he could not understand why they had not been evacuated. It merely served to inflame Chinese opinion and also that of the United States; that the Chinese regarded this as a matter of their national interest. He said they were not major issues in themselves but had a very bad effect on international affairs. Then, of course, there was the question of Taiwan itself. He felt that delay in settling these questions was not advantageous even to the United States.
The President said if he began to discuss the Chinese problem in the length of time they had reserved, and he agreed it was very important, they would be late for their meetings this afternoon. He said he could understand the Marshal’s point of view, but the whole matter was extremely complicated and tangled. Our relations with Peiping had been far from fortunate, and it would take some time even to express to the Marshal the depth of feeling there was in the United States on this subject. He might make, however, one point which he was sure the Marshal as a soldier would understand, and that was that in spite of extreme provocation, he had restrained [refrained] from sending powerful forces to the area since there was no desire to become involved in war in that area.[Page 417]
The President said that the other specific point he wished to take up was prisoners in the USSR itself. He said they had appeals from other countries—West Germans, Japanese, Norwegians and others concerning their nationals still held prisoner in the Soviet Union. In the case of the West Germans, these ran up in the hundreds of thousands. It had been said that some of these had been convicted as war criminals, but surely the time had come to review these cases. He had even had reports which had been taken up with the Soviet Government that there were some Americans in these camps.
Marshal Zhukov replied that he felt that the figures mentioned by the President were greatly exaggerated. He said insofar as he was aware, all Austrians had been released and that it was intended to negotiate in regard to prisoners with the West Germans. As to the others, he did not know, but would do what he could on his return to Moscow.
The President said he thought the time had come for their lunch to break up. He wished to say in conclusion that insofar as it depends on him that he would do everything he could to avoid invectives and similar statements in regard to the Soviet Union and would treat the Soviet Union with the respect it deserved. He felt that they with their new leadership, and that he as an old soldier might make some progress in the future. He said if the Soviet Government did something they did not like in the United States, he would take it up promptly either through our Ambassador in Moscow or the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, and he hoped the Soviet Government would do the same. He said, however, there was one matter he felt to be very important and that was reunification of Germany. It might not be possible to do it all at once, but the mechanism should be set up here at this conference in order to continue the study of this vital problem. He said he hoped that he and Marshal Zhukov would not be known primarily for their military campaigns, but rather as soldiers of peace, and he hoped that the new Soviet leadership would likewise be so known.
Marshal Zhukov said he agreed, and also said they did have a new leadership, a collective leadership, in the Soviet Union. He said the principle of leadership was seriously meant and had already in the last few years demonstrated that it was the best method under present circumstances for the Soviet Union. He said collective leadership was not confined only to the nine members of the Presidium of the Central Committee but was on a broader basis and included the Central Committee of the Soviet Government, the Central Committees and Governments of the constitutional republics, and even provincial administrations. He said the base was very broad and it had proved the efficacy. He continued that it had been said in the foreign [Page 418] press that collective leadership could not survive, but it had already proved itself and enjoyed the support of the people of the Soviet Union. He added that there was an economic upswing in the Soviet Union and great progress was being made in industry and very important efforts in agriculture. He said they wished to be able to devote their entire effort to the solution of economic problems and to raising the standard of living for the people. On Germany he agreed that efforts must continue in the direction of unification, and he felt on the basis outlined in Bulganin’s speech. However, account must be taken of the existence of the GDR, and they could not be left to the winds of chance, and that the Soviet Union felt they must help them in their problems. He would ask the United States to take into account the fact of the existence of the GDR. As for the immediate period, he could not see why both Germanies could not be in a collective security system. He said unification of Germany could not be settled at this conference, but the aim should not be abandoned or the question brushed aside.
The President said that insofar as he was able, he would see to it that this problem was settled and Germany unified and there would be no persecution of any one in that area for their past political acts, convictions or beliefs.
On departing, Marshal Zhukov expressed his pleasure at having had the opportunity to talk to the President and said it had been a great honor and he felt he had been useful.
The President said it had been a pleasure to have had a talk with him and asked him to extend his greetings to Khrushchev and Bulganin.
- Source: Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers. Top Secret; Personal and Private. Drafted by Bohlen. A summary of this memorandum was circulated as USDEL/MC/13, July 20 (Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–GE/7–2055), in the records of the U.S. Delegation and was transmitted to Washington on July 21. (Secto 59 from Geneva; ibid., 396.1–GE/7–2155) Ann Whitman recorded the following statement by the President about Zhukov after the lunch: “He is not the man I used to know—he has been well trained for this performance.” (Eisenhower Library, Whitman Diary, p. 11) For President Eisenhower’s account of the lunch, see Mandate for Change, pp. 524–525.↩
- See Documents 188–190.↩
- Regarding Bulganin’s proposal, see Document 184.↩
- Correspondence concerning this matter is scheduled for publication in the compilation on Berlin in a forthcoming volume of Foreign Relations.↩