24. Editorial Note

On Saturday, January 28, the United States Government released the text of Bulganin’s letter of January 23 to the President, along with a reply dated January 28 by the President. In his reply, the President noted that a number of provisions in the proposed treaty of friendship and cooperation were already contained in the United Nations Charter, to which both countries were signatories, and he wondered “whether again going through a treaty-making procedure, and this time on a bilateral basis only, might indeed work against the cause of peace by creating the illusion that a stroke of a pen had achieved a result which in fact can be achieved only by a change of spirit.” The President reiterated the United States Government’s dedication to achieving progress on the three issues discussed at the Geneva Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers meetings the previous year—namely, European security and Germany, disarmament, and East-West contacts—and said he was looking forward to receiving a further expression of Bulganin’s views. For the full text of Eisenhower’s reply, see Department of State Bulletin, February 6, 1956, pages 191–193.

In his response of February 1, which was delivered by Ambassador Zarubin the following day and released at that time by the [Page 54]United States Government, Bulganin emphasized the Soviet Government’s belief in the usefulness of a Soviet-American treaty, especially in that such a treaty would make it easier to resolve the issues discussed in Geneva. The text of Bulganin’s letter of February 1 to Eisenhower is in Department of State Bulletin, March 26, 1955, pages 515–518.

According to a memorandum of a telephone conversation between Secretary Dulles and W. Park Armstrong, on February 3, the following exchange took place:

“A. is watching Genetrix, and has some people in his office on it now. The Sec. is anxious to keep close watch on the extent to which they are coming through and be alert to any evidence there is of diminishing returns. The Sec. wants to stop it if it gets to that basis. A. said they are talking of the Air Force desire to raise the daily launching rate to 40 per day—only 11 went up yesterday. A few are coming through now and some have begun to transmit but have not reached the area of cutdown. A. will come up after he finishes with the people there. The Sec. said he and the Pres. are nervous about it. If it is not producing substantial returns, he does not want to go on about it. We found out what can be done and probably discovered some bugs in the thing. They agreed the time for protest is near. (Memorandum of telephone conversation by Phyllis D. Bernau; Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, General Telephone Conversations)

On February 4, the Soviet Government delivered a note to the American Embassy in Moscow protesting and demanding the immediate cessation of United States reconnaissance balloon flights over the Soviet Union, as well as an end to propaganda balloon flights to which it had protested before. The note indicated that some of the reconnaissance balloons, with “automatically operated photo cameras for aerial survey, radio transmitters, radio receivers and other things,” had been captured. For text of the Soviet note, see Department of State, Bulletin, February 20, 1956, page 295.

According to the Secretary’s memorandum of his conversation with the President at 10:15 a.m. on February 6, the following discussion took place:

“We discussed the matter of the Soviet protest about the meteorological balloons. The President recalled that both he and I had been rather allergic to this project and doubted whether the results would justify the inconvenience involved. The President said he thought the operation should now be suspended. I agreed, but said I thought we should handle it so it would not look as though we had been caught with jam on our fingers. I said we would prepare and promptly dispatch an appropriate note.” (Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Meetings with the President)

In a memorandum of February 7 to Macomber, Beam wrote that the draft United States reply had been cleared with the Air Force [Page 55]and in the Department of State, with three changes included at the suggestion of the Department’s Legal Office. (Department of State, EUR Files: Lot 59 D 233, Memos 1956–7)

On February 8, Ambassador Bohlen delivered to the Soviet Foreign Ministry a reply to the Soviet note of February 4. It reaffirmed that the United States Government “is not directly or indirectly participating in any project to dispatch propaganda balloons over the Soviet Union.” The note also explained that the other balloons were meteorological balloons, the launching of which had been announced publicly on January 8, and gave the following description of the project:

“The balloons are equipped with instruments to measure and record meteorological phenomena such as air jet streams, and with photographic apparatus to provide pictures of cloud formations which bear on air movements at various velocities. Much valuable scientific information is being accumulated. It is hoped that this method of meteorological research will contribute substantially to the forthcoming International Geophysical Year programs.

“The declared purpose of the project is made clear by the fact that the equipment itself contains instructions in several languages, including Russian, for its recovery and delivery to the authorities charged with the evaluation of the data obtained. In the interest of scientific research, it would be much appreciated if the Soviet Government would return the instruments which have come into its possession.

“Similar surveys have been conducted for some time through the launching of some thousands of meteorological balloons over the United States. These have been equipped with safety devices and have constituted no hazard even to dense civilian air traffic. As explained in the announcement, the balloons observed by the Soviet Government are equipped with the same safety devices.

“The United States Government would be happy to explain further to the Soviet Government the safety measures incorporated in the project. Provisionally, however, in order to avoid misunderstandings, and in view of the Soviet Government’s objection, the United States Government will seek to avoid the launching of additional balloons which, on the basis of known data might transit the USSR.”

Appended to the note was a copy of the Department of Defense press release of January 8 announcing the project. For text of the United States note of February 8 and the Department of Defense press release of January 8, see Department of State Bulletin, February 20, 1956, pages 293–295.