110. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, February 28, 19571

PARTICIPANTS

  • Ambassador Charles E. Bohlen2
  • Ambassador William S.B. Lacy
  • EE—Messrs. Freers and Blake
  • P:EWC—Messrs. Merrill and Toon

Ambassador Bohlen was informed that the British Foreign Office favored a gradual and unobtrusive resumption of exchanges with the Soviet Union but wished its action be coordinated with that of the Department.3 While the Department had been considering for some time a lifting of the suspension, the matter had been brought to a head by the Soviet Embassy’s undated Aide-Mémoire handed to Mr. Beam January 24, 1957,4 in which the Department had been queried on its intentions with regard to several technical exchanges under discussion last fall. EE and EWC share the British view that exchanges with the U.S.S.R. should be resumed on a gradual basis; there remains the question of the method and timing of resumption.

Ambassador Bohlen was informed that American public opinion, (as reflected by recent polls), most editorial comment, and the views of American intellectual and scientific circles were in favor of resumption. It was the Ambassador’s view that if the American public would support exchanges with the Soviet Union, as appeared to be the case, then he would favor resumption as in the national interest. If there is general agreement to resume, the Ambassador felt no useful purpose would be served by linking resumption to Soviet behavior in Eastern Europe or to current Soviet attacks on the United States in the General Assembly. While it is desirable on appropriate occasions to combat the Soviet standard line on East-West exchanges by stressing our belief that exchanges can fruitfully take place only in a favorable political environment and cannot as the Soviets contend create such an atmosphere, the issue now is whether we should resume exchanges or not. If it is agreed that it is [Page 257]in the national interest to do so, we should not attempt to make resumption conditional on certain changes in Soviet behavior, notwithstanding the propaganda opportunities inherent in such an approach. He would recommend that no formal reply be made to the Soviet Aide-Mémoire; that, instead, the Soviet Embassy be permitted to deduce from the Department’s actions that the suspension was lifted. He would agree that a suitable first step would be for the Department to inform the Soviet Embassy that the American mass feeding delegation was now ready to return the visit of the Soviet group last fall.

The Ambassador was careful to point out that the policy should not be one of full scale resumption without qualification. He felt we should proceed cautiously in order not to find ourselves confronted with the necessity of a further suspension in the event, as is very possible, that Soviet behavior in Poland or increased anti-United States campaign would require such action. In short, he believed we should start very slowly and be guided in the development of a program for exchanges by future Soviet behavior and the state of our relations with the Soviet Union.

Ambassador Bohlen felt that although American cultural performances in the U.S.S.R. are useful in combating the Soviet charge that the U.S. is a cultural desert and personal contacts between scholars and scientists have merit, exchanges of technical delegations are the most beneficial to the United States.…Tourism he felt had little impact on Soviet society, and while he had no objection to controlled student exchanges he did not share the British estimate of potential gain in this field. Although there had been signs of recent student unrest in the Soviet Union, he was convinced that disaffection had not and would not reach such proportions as to represent a real threat to the Soviet social order. He did not feel that the Soviet regime would have to resort to coercive measures to cope with this problem. Because of the hunger of Soviet youth for education and its awareness that only through education could their status in Soviet society be improved, the threat of expulsion for non-conformism would be adequate.

As to cultural exchanges, the Ambassador felt the American position should rest not only on Soviet unwillingness to comply with the fingerprinting requirement but also on the hostility of American public opinion to the Soviet Union at the present time. By mentioning the latter, we would prepare the ground for official discouragement (for security or other reasons) of a large-scale Soviet cultural invasion in the event the fingerprinting requirement should be lifted at the current session of Congress.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 511.613/1–2457. Confidential. Drafted by Toon on March 7. A typewritten notation on the source text reads: “Approved in substance by Ambassador Bohlen.”
  2. Bohlen left Moscow on February 21 to return to the United States for consultation.
  3. The British Foreign Office’s views on this matter were communicated to Merrill and Toon by the Counselor of the British Embassy in Washington, William Barker, on February 20. A memorandum of their conversation is in Department of State, Central File 541.613/2–2057.
  4. Not found.