18. Diary Entry by the President’s Press Secretary (Hagerty)1

At 12:15 Shanley came into my office to tell me that he had just received a call from the Secretary of State2 informing him that the State Department, through Livingston Merchant, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, had received a call from the Russian Embassy requesting an appointment for the Russian Ambassador, Georgi M. Zaroubin, to see the President to deliver a personal message from Premier Bulganin.3

Shanley said that Dulles, in talking to him, had asked him to check with me to see how I felt about such a request before we talked to the President. Dulles had explained to Shanley that usually under diplomatic protocol, whenever an Ambassador of any kind requested an appointment with the President to present a message from his Head of State, it was granted. Shanley and I both agreed that we would tell the President of the request and also about Foster’s recommendation that the President see him. We discussed briefly the time of the appointment, and both of us agreed that we should not put it on the President’s schedule before the press conference, which was scheduled for 10:30 A.M. tomorrow. We agreed on suggesting to him the hour of 11:30.

I asked Shanley if the State Department had told him what it was about, and he said that they had not and that the Embassy had not given Mr. Merchant any indication of the contents of the message.

When the President came back from lunch at 2 o’clock, we went in to see him and inform him of the request. He agreed with Dulles’ recommendation and said that he would see the Russian Ambassador either at 3:30 that afternoon or at 11:30 the next morning—“or any other time that Foster recommends.” He asked us if we knew what the Russian Ambassador wanted to see him about, and we told him the State Department said they didn’t know. He asked us to recheck with Dulles on the time of the appointment. As we were leaving the room, he called me back and said, “Jim, see what information you can get.”

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Shanley and I put in a joint call to Dulles from Shanley’s office.4 We told him that the President had agreed to see the Russian Ambassador and had offered either 3:30 that afternoon or 11:30 the next morning. Foster agreed with us that it should not be before the press conference because that would probably open up the press conference to a lot of questions. I asked Dulles if he had any idea what it was about, and he said he had but he could not discuss it with me on the telephone. He asked me to come over to his office immediately because there were some matters he wanted to discuss with me to be relayed to the President before the appointment was definitely set.

I immediately got a staff car and went over to the Secretary’s office, going into the building through the basement entrance and up to his office by the private elevator. Dulles and Herbert Hoover, Jr. were waiting for me, and we had a meeting, which lasted about 20 minutes, on the subject.

Dulles started off the conversation by telling me that the call had come in earlier that morning from the Soviet Chargé d’Affaires to Livingston Merchant. Zaroubin was out of town in New York. The Chargé d’Affaires, requesting the appointment in the name of the Ambassador, said that the Ambassador had a personal message from Bulganin to be delivered to the President. Merchant asked the Chargé if he could tell him what the message was, and the Chargé repeated quite bluntly that it was a “personal” message from Bulganin. Livingston then asked if it dealt with disarmament and the Chargé said that it did not. That was as far as Merchant could go. He had to drop the conversation.

Dulles then said that the message could be any number of things but that he and Herbert Hoover, Jr. thought they had a good idea of what it was. They said that they were sure this sudden Soviet move, with the request that the Ambassador personally deliver the message (the first time that the Soviets have requested an appointment since we have been in office—or as a matter of fact, some time prior to that) was undoubtedly in line with some new Soviet propaganda program. Dulles stressed the point that the Chargé d’Affaires’ answer that it did not deal with disarmament would in Dulles’ opinion eliminate a possibility that it might deal with some aspects of the President’s “Open Sky” proposal.

Dulles said that what he thought it was was a very strong Soviet protest on our secret “Weather Balloons”. This program was [Page 43]started in full swing three weeks ago, and at the time it was started we expected that it would take the Soviets about three weeks to catch up with it. We know that some of these balloons were shot down by Soviet aircraft and anti-aircraft fire. Dulles said that he expected the protest, if that is what it was, to be coupled with another attack against the President’s “Open Sky” recommendation. He said that he expected that the protest would cite the “weather balloons” as another instance of the United States attempting to get military information over Soviet territory and that the “Open Sky” recommendations were merely another step in that direction.

The Air Force publicly announced the “weather balloons” in connection with the National Geophysical Year but that the announcement had not received much attention. He (Dulles) said it was extremely lucky that there had been news stories of late about the weather balloons in Tokyo which had been floated over the Pacific Ocean and which were presently floating around the skies of Texas and Oklahoma.

If this protest followed along these lines, we would, of course, deny it and say that we were participating, as we had already long since announced, in research for the Geophysical Year and that such research would be made available to all countries.

I asked Dulles if the Ambassador himself would call on the President, and after checking with Livingston Merchant, he said that the appointment itself would be made with Zaroubin. Dulles and Hoover also thought that if they were right in their guess, the Russians would put out a copy of the letter from Moscow at about the time Zaroubin was seeing the President. That would launch a world–wide propaganda campaign against the United States, picking up the old charges of war mongering and all the rest.

I told Dulles that normally I announce the President’s schedule at four o’clock for the next day and that if the appointment with Zaroubin were set for 11:30, I would, of course, have to announce it at four. He agreed that this was the way to do it to make it as routine as possible although we both realized that the Russian Ambassador visiting the President was in itself a news story. Dulles said he thought I should say in my announcement that protocol had been observed/that the call had come in to Livingston Merchant and had been relayed to the Appointment Secretary at the White House. He also said that he thought I should say that the Ambassador was going to deliver a personal message from Bulganin so that this would show the world that this was handling the call on a strictly diplomatic routine basis.

Dulles also wanted me to tell the President that the reason he was urging this so strongly was that if the President saw Zaroubin to deliver a message from Bulganin, he would think that the Kremlin [Page 44]would have a difficult job in the future of declining to see Ambassador Bohlen with messages from the President that we wanted to get into the Kremlin. In the past the Russians have insisted that Bohlen present messages from the President to the Russian Foreign Minister, Molotov, instead of Bulganin. We have always felt that it would be much better if our Ambassador could deliver personal messages from the President directly to Bulganin without having to go through Molotov.

Dulles asked me to go back and get to the President with this information as soon as I could and then let him know of the President’s final decision. He said the Russian Embassy had been calling Merchant’s office every hour on the hour to see if the State Department had an answer and that he wanted to give the answer to them as soon as possible. I told Foster that I would do so and left his office, returning immediately to the White House.5

When I got back, Dillon Anderson was with the President briefing him on National Security Council matters, but I sent in a note through Shanley saying that Dulles had asked me to come to his office and that he had some confidential information which he wanted me to tell the President as soon as possible. Shanley brought the note in and came out to tell me that the President would see me in ten minutes just as soon as he finished with Dillon Anderson. When Anderson came out, I went in to see the President and told him of my talk with Dulles. He readily agreed that he should not see the Russian Ambassador before the press conference and then said, “Foster may be right on his guess. I haven’t thought too much of this balloon thing and I don’t blame the Russians at all. I’ve always thought it was sort of a dirty trick. But that was the gamble we took when we made the decision and they ought to have a good answer ready for me if I have to use it when I see the Ambassador. You call Foster and tell him that I want his suggestions for that answer over in my office in a sealed envelope no later than 9:30 tomorrow morning. Also tell Foster that I want him here with me when the Ambassador comes in.

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I also told the President that I would have to announce this at four o’clock, saying that Zaroubin was coming to see him and he asked me why I had to do that and why I could not postpone it until tomorrow. “If you announce it today, you’ll have a whole flock of cameramen and reporters outside.” I told the President that this would be so but that Foster and I agreed that it should be put on the schedule and handled as routinely as possible. I said that we both felt that the Russian Embassy would leak the appointment and that this would cause more confusion and more mystery than a straightforward announcement of it from the White House. He thought that over for a minute and then said, “Yes, I guess that’s right. O.K. You announce it at four.”

The President also said that he was quite sure that this was undoubtedly part of a Soviet propaganda move timed deliberately to break just before his meeting with Prime Minister Eden.6 “That’s the way they do things, and we will have to handle it as carefully and delicately as we can.” The President, however, warned that we must not at anytime close the door on such messages as this coming through and would have to receive them and give them study no matter whether we might be convinced in advance that they were merely propaganda steps.7

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Hagerty Papers.
  2. A memorandum of this telephone conversation, which took place at 12:14 p.m., prepared by Phyllis D. Bernau, is in Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, White House Telephone Conversations.
  3. According to Beam’s memorandum of January 24 through Merchant to Secretary Dulles, it was Beam, not Merchant, who had been called by the Soviet Embassy. (Department of State, EUR Files: Lot 59 D 233, Memos 1956–7)
  4. A memorandum of this conversation, which took place at 2 p.m., prepared by Bernau, is in Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, White House Telephone Conversations. Secretary Dulles also called Radford at 12:09, and Allen Dulles at 1:05 about the Soviet Embassy’s request and its possible significance. (Department of State, EUR Files: Lot 59 D 233, Memos 1956–7)
  5. After Hagerty left, Dulles called Merchant at 2:23 p.m. to verify that it was the Soviet Ambassador and not the Chargé who wished to see the President. The Secretary also called Howe at 2:29 to ask who made the original announcement, and Howe indicated that it was the Air Force in California. Howe subsequently called back and transmitted the message through Bernau that there had been a simultaneous release to the Associated Press ticker in Washington and at the launching site in Vernalis, California. Howe said that the announcement had not been picked up particularly by American newspapers, but it had been by the foreign press, including British and French newspapers. He noted also that subsequent releases conforming to the original release had been made in Tokyo, Hawaii, Alaska, and Germany, and the Air Force believed that a release was made in Norway as well. (Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, General Telephone Conversations)
  6. Eden visited Washington January 31–February 1.
  7. Hagerty and Shanley passed on the President’s wishes to Dulles in a telephone call at 3:11 p.m. (Memorandum of telephone conversation by Bernau; Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, White House Telephone Conversations)