99. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Merchant) to the Secretary of State1


  • U.S. Views on East-West Contacts post-Geneva


Embassy London’s telegram 2205 of November 29 (Tab A2) reported United Kingdom thinking (as expressed by Paul Grey, Assistant Undersecretary in the Foreign Office and the British expert at Geneva on East-West contacts) with regard to follow-up action on East-West contacts during the post-Geneva period. The U.K. presently feels it would be well to let any follow-up “lie fallow” for a time in order to see what the Soviets may do during this pause. Mr. Grey thought, however, that the U.S. might wish to take bilateral action on specific items of interest to it. He asked for our thinking concerning East-West contacts.

The attached telegram (Tab B 3) (to be sent by pouch) for your approval replies to London’s cable and states that we feel it would be advisable for the U.S. to initiate action with the Soviets on a bilateral basis regarding certain points included in the 17-point Western memorandum on East-West contacts submitted at Geneva on October 31 (Tab C4). This would demonstrate that we were sincere in espousing these proposals and were not merely seeking propaganda effect. Our telegram would also go to Paris so that the views expressed therein could be discussed with the French.

Most of the points on which we recommend action would seem to be non-controversial and of advantage to the U.S. (book and publications exchanges, films, exhibits, reciprocal reduction in travel restrictions). A decision to move ahead on these is required, however. Certain policy questions arise in connection with exchanges of expert groups which should be decided before we proceed with the course of action outlined in the attached cable. These questions [Page 216]involve propaganda, intelligence and public relations issues. These issues must be dealt with whether we like it or not. They are being dealt with now on a piece-meal, ad hoc basis with all of the attendant risks of such an approach. This is not a satisfactory way to develop national policy.

As stated therein, we have already approached the Soviet Foreign Office with a suggestion that talks be instituted in Washington between representatives of the Department and of the Soviet Embassy to make plans for exchanges for a one-year period in various fields—for example, in agriculture and medicine. (Tab D reports Embassy Moscow’s approach on this subject.)5 No answer has been received from the Soviets to this approach, and it may be that, as it appeared at Geneva, they will attempt to evade commitments for the careful planning of exchanges in advance on a basis of mutual advantage, but will try to conduct exchanges in the future on the present ad hoc basis.

It may be noted that the Soviets have already accepted our proposal on Amerika magazine and have taken the initiative recently in proposing student and professor exchanges, despite the lack of a positive Soviet stand on these points at Geneva. They have also made several new proposals for technical exchanges.

We believe exchanges will continue between the U.S. and the USSR. The latter wants to obtain technical know-how and propaganda benefits from exchanges. Many individuals in the United States are anxious to promote or take part in exchanges with the USSR. The latter group includes those who look hopefully at any sign of “peace”, those who believe in a sort of non-political “people’s diplomacy”, those who feel we will undermine the regime by exposing the people to Free World influences, and those, such as many scientists, who feel it essential that we have “contacts” in order to get to other specialists and show them the Free World is both unafraid and positively interested in mutual sharing of information. There are also those Americans interested in business dealings—both legitimate commercial enterprises and the promoter type. It would not appear advisable for us to attempt to bar further exchanges, since this would be incompatible with our stand favoring increased East-West contacts and would cut us off from obtaining intelligence benefits ourselves from exchanges. Also, we think more contact with the West will give Soviet officials a better understanding of Western realities and may help promote evolutionary trends in the USSR in the long run.

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If exchanges are to continue, and they will whether we like it or not since passport controls are off and the Soviets are interested in sponsoring visits, it is important that we take the initiative in suggesting exchanges we want to see carried out, and in preparing careful plans for such projects. Therefore, we would propose to press the Soviets to accept our ideas on exchanges in the fields of agriculture and medicine, even if they do not seem inclined to respond to our initial approach. Moreover, we would wish to propose during the coming year a few additional exchanges in areas of high intelligence priority (for example, petroleum, transport, plastics). Groups would be small in size and publicity would be held to a minimum. The fingerprinting problem would not be a difficulty in such exchange, since incoming Soviet groups would be professional and capable of classification as official.

Action of this kind presupposes policy agreement on the following points:

The U.S. is interested in actively promoting a limited number of officially organized reciprocal exchanges of professional and technical groups with the USSR.
Sufficient funds will be allocated to cover expenses of such exchanges. (We estimate roughly that at least $50,000 would be required during FY 1957 to cover expenses of translators, tour guides and incidentals if professional exchanges of the type we wish to propose to the Soviets are carried through. For expenses between now and July 1, 1956, we would continue to draw on the Department’s confidential funds and on other agencies. The Soviets would pay basic travel and subsistence expenses of their groups, and U.S. groups would pay their own way.)
A special office will be established in the P area of the Department to handle East-West contacts. (EUR/EE has been dealing with exchanges to date, but is unable to cope with the growing workload involved while continuing to perform its regular functions. The question of a new office to handle contacts and the problem of providing funds for its operation is now before Mr. Henderson for consideration.)
The Department will support in the NSC a revised policy statement favoring a positive program of East-West exchanges.


That you approve in principle the policy outlined above on East-West contacts, including the numbered points in the preceding paragraph, and that you sign the telegram (Tab B) giving our views on the program to be followed on East-West contacts in the future.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 511.60/12–2155. Secret. Drafted by Stoessel and concurred in by Stelle, MacKnight, Howe, MacArthur, and Hoover. A note on the source text reads: “I oppose this policy in the absence of a document from Intelligence agencies which clearly asserts U.S. advantage in proposed policy— SMcLeod”. Another notation indicates that an undated letter from Cabell (Tab E), pertained to McLeod’s dissent. Cabell’s letter was not found attached to the source text.
  2. Not found attached to the source text. (Ibid., 511.60/11–2955)
  3. Not found.
  4. Not found attached. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, November 14, 1955, pp. 778–779.
  5. Telegram 1115 from Moscow, November 12, was not found attached. (Department of State, Central Files, 032/11–1255)
  6. There is no indication on the source text that the Secretary of State approved or disapproved the recommendation.