243. Memorandum of a Conversation at the President’s Villa, Geneva, July 23, 1955, 9:30 a.m.1


  • The President
  • Ambassador Bohlen
  • Marshal Zhukov
  • Mr. Troyanovsky

After greeting Marshal Zhukov, the President showed him into the library. Marshal Zhukov remarked that it appeared as though their work were coming to an end. The President replied that he hoped it would not be an end, but a beginning. Zhukov said he agreed completely with that and regretted that it had taken so long to establish personal contact between the Soviet and American leaders, with which the President agreed. Marshal Zhukov continued that if the Soviet leaders would ever have a chance to visit the United States, he thought this would be of great help in overcoming future difficulties. The President said everyone was so busy these days that it was hard to take time off, but he agreed that sooner or later something of that nature might be possible. Zhukov then said the President must have observed the respect and good feelings that Khrushchev and Bulganin and the rest entertained for the President. This was also an expression of their feeling for the American people, since they looked upon the President as the representative of the people of the United States.

The President replied that he had enjoyed meeting the Soviet leaders but hoped they would find something in this Conference which would encourage the people of the world. On the personal side, he felt that anyway the meeting had been worthwhile, and he was highly pleased with his contact with the Soviet leaders, which he felt would be helpful for future relationships between our two countries, and that he would do his best to promote just such a relationship. He said he wished to tell the Marshal, however, that that being said, he was disappointed in the course of the negotiations themselves. The Soviet Delegation had introduced a resolution in regard to an over-all security pact, which he initially had not wished to accept, feeling that it was cumbersome, complicated, and with so [Page 489] many countries involved would take a very long time to work out. However, his Delegation had urged him to accept it and he had done so. He stood by this decision, and they would work loyally with other Delegations to see if anything could be done in that field. However, after our having accepted this Soviet proposition, Mr. Molotov then had refused to accept the directive to the Foreign Ministers listing the subjects in the order they had been discussed by the Heads of Government. He said if they could not agree on this order, and place German unification at the head of the list, which corresponded to the order of discussion here, it was doubtful if they could get a directive to the Foreign Ministers. He said he realized that his old friend was not responsible for the actions of the Delegations here in every respect, but he wished to point out that in his country there were many people of German descent—in fact, he was, himself—who felt strongly on the question of German unification and that therefore to put it down at the bottom of the list for consideration would be very badly received by the America people. He said he had no desire to see hard feeling or bitterness develop between the two parts of Germany—that he thought the Foreign Ministers should try to work out something on this subject. The President then added that he was speaking of the acceptance for consideration by the Foreign Ministers of the various proposals which had been submitted here.

Marshal Zhukov replied that big events are not dealt with in a hurry. He said he thought in general, in any case, that the meeting had been useful, and the President interrupted to agree. Even if they did not come to an agreement on points of common interest, he felt that the relations between the two countries would improve and then these problems might be more easily solved step-by-step in the future. The President said he agreed and had not meant to imply in any way that the meeting had been in vain. He thought our relations would be better in the future, but he had hoped to tell the American people on his return that something had been started on questions of substance. He would however, in any case, tell the American people of his impression that relations would be better in the future. Zhukov said he agreed with the President and that the Soviet people also expected some positive results and would be much distressed if nothing positive came out of the meeting. He felt the remaining time should be used in an attempt to bring our respective positions closer together. If nothing emerged from the meeting of a positive nature, not only the Soviet but also the American, British, and French people would not be satisfied with the work of their leaders.

As to the question of order, he said he thought the President’s formulation was not right. The chief problem from the Soviet point of view was that of security, which was of worldwide interest. In [Page 490] fact, it meant whether developments would lead to peace or war. The German question was very important, and a question of principle, but it was still a special problem not comparable in his view with the great issues of war or peace. He said that speaking frankly, if there were no Paris Agreements and West Germany in NATO, with Eastern Germany in the Warsaw Pact it would have been easier to have agreed on Germany, and that these developments had greatly complicated the question. What was needed was time and the establishment of a European security system within the framework of which it would be easier to move toward a solution of the German question. He added that the entire Soviet people supported this point of view and it would be impossible for the Soviet Delegation, because of this fact, to recede from their position on this point. He said that as a friend and in the name of great interests, he hoped that the President would do everything to find a compromise, not only because of the feelings of the Soviet people but in the name of the friendship between our countries.

The President said he thought that every effort should be made to try to find a way to reconcile their positions, but that we felt just as strongly as they did on this matter and it would be a great pity if the Conference ended with only the hope for friendlier relations. This, in his opinion, was not enough. It had been generally agreed that the Foreign Ministers would meet in October and they should be told what they were to discuss. He repeated that the first point discussed here at Geneva was German reunification, and that therefore he felt this belonged in a similar place on the Foreign Ministers’ agenda. He said, however, that he would try to find some way to resolve this difficulty and assumed that the Soviet Delegation would also make every effort to get the joint directive. He said that in any case he felt the contacts had been useful and that all members of his Delegation had told him that they had enjoyed meeting and liked Bulganin and Khrushchev, and he felt that after this meeting they would be better able to tackle their mutual problems in the future. He said possibly the fact that he and the Marshal had had these meetings might in itself be helpful. Marshal Zhukov said he agreed with the President but felt that up to the very final moment of the Conference every effort must be made to find a compromise, and he hoped the President and his colleagues would show wisdom and would reconcile the different points of view. If this could be done, everyone would breathe a sigh of relief. Otherwise, they would leave here in a somewhat somber mood. He said that speaking personally, since he had not discussed this with his colleagues, might it not be possible to deal with these questions separately, leaving for later the determination of their order on the agenda. He said the problems were important in themselves, in substance, that is, and could not [Page 491] they deal with them here without subordinating one to the other. He added he was not a diplomat, but was speaking frankly as a soldier to an old friend. The President replied that his experience in political life had not been long, but he would certainly give serious thought, as would his colleagues, to an endeavor to come up with something which might regulate the differences. He wished to assure the Marshal that our position was not taken lightly and in order to create difficulties, but was very deeply felt, just as we recognized that the Soviet position was likewise based on serious considerations.

Marshal Zhukov then said that in regard to Disarmament, would it not be possible to send that item both to the United Nations Disarmament Commission and also the Foreign Ministers’ meeting. Their experience had been that frequently if a question got into a committee or sub-committee it tended to minimize its importance. The President said that on the contrary, he thought to send it to the Commission and then to the Foreign Ministers would emphasize its importance. Zhukov remarked that if a question is of great political importance it should go to a high political level, and he felt on this point a possible compromise was to send it to both. The President said he would consider this point and would discuss it with his colleagues. Zhukov remarked smilingly that the two of them seemed to be on their way to a decision. The President said, in a similar vein, that he and Marshal Zhukov had never had much trouble in agreeing. Zhukov said he thought they should help in every way they could to resolve the difficulties. The President agreed and said he was extremely pleased at the Marshal’s courtesy in paying him a farewell visit and that he felt their visits were helpful.

The President said he had one more point to raise before the conclusion of the interview, though he felt sure the Marshal was as busy as he was. He said he was convinced the Soviet Government wants peace just as we do, and did not wish to have any wars, big or little. He said that among the problems were those of divided countries—that they had been able to settle Austria, the fighting had been ended in Korea and Indochina, and there were hopes for some progress on the German question. There was also the problem of a divided China, and in regard to that he wished to ask only that the Soviet Government should use its influence with the Chinese in order to persuade them that problems should not be settled by fighting. These problems take time and might be long in settling, but since we had settled Austria, Korea, and Indochina, it was important that the Chinese not do something which all would subsequently regret. He said he did not suggest that the Soviet Government was responsible, but was merely asking it to use its good offices to that end. Zhukov said he agreed and held similar views. He said insofar as he was aware the Chinese had no intention to have recourse to [Page 492] armed force. They had been waiting patiently for settlement of these matters and if some hope could be given them there was no doubt that they would continue to wait with patience. He felt that the initiation of direct conversations between the United States and China, possibly at first on minor matters and then later on larger questions, would give such hope. The President said we were not averse to such talks but that the Marshal should understand that the United States was very angry at the fact that the Chinese were still holding soldiers from the Korean war prisoner, but that he did not reject the idea that there might be some hope in negotiation.

Zhukov then said he had noticed in the President’s statement on Disarmament that he had given no reaction to the Soviet proposals of May 10 involving a level of forces, inspection, and the abolition of nuclear weapons.2 He would like to hear from his old friend the reaction to those proposals. The President said there were other countries involved and he had not had time to consult them and felt that it was a matter for study by Foreign Ministers or a commission of experts. In the present circumstances he felt it better to withhold comment. There was, however, one point he could mention and that was that he had noticed that in both his statement and the Soviet statement of May 10 there seemed to be agreement that there was no sure way to inspect or control stockpiling of atomic weapons. Therefore, he felt it was a mistake to jump to any hasty conclusions in the light of that situation. It required study. He did not exclude the examination of any proposal, and the Marshal could be sure that any proposal from the Soviet Government would be given the most careful study.

The President again thanked the Marshal for his visit, who replied that he considered it an honor to be received by the President. The President then sent his best wishes to the Marshal’s family and the Marshal asked the President to send his greeting to Mrs. Eisenhower and the President’s grand-children.3

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers. Top Secret. Drafted by Bohlen. Attached to the source text was a note of transmission from Bohlen to the President, dated July 23.
  2. For text of the President’s statement on disarmament, see Document 221; for text of the Soviet disarmament proposals of May 10, see Documents (R.I.I.A.) for 1955, pp. 110–121.
  3. John Eisenhower noted in his diary (p. 29) that this meeting was held “in the hopes of getting agreement on something concrete that afternoon.” (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File)