158. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Nuclear Test Detection—Technical Negotiations with U.S.S.R.


  • Department of State
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador James J. Wadsworth
    • C—Mr. Reinhardt
    • S/P—Mr. Smith
    • S/AE—Mr. Farley
    • EUR—Mr. Kohler
    • S/AE—Mr. Spiers
    • S/S–RO—Mr. Miller
  • Office of the President
    • Dr. Killian
  • Department of Defense
    • General Loper
    • General Fox
  • Central Intelligence Agency
    • Allen Dulles
    • Herbert Scoville
  • Atomic Energy Commission
    • General Starbird

The Secretary advised the group that the British Embassy had just informed us of London’s approval of the revised draft reply to Khrushchev’s letter of May 9, 1958.1 He noted also that the Swiss Embassy had agreed to the selection of Geneva as the location of the proposed talks. The Secretary read the draft reply and said that France and Canada would be contacted shortly. He said that the new approach involving a multinational Western delegation would create difficulties in preparation for the talks, and that it was important to get organized quickly. He said that it would be up to the United States to provide the chairman and spokesman for the Western delegation, and that we would choose the representatives from other countries, who would serve as individual experts and not as government representatives. The first problem we faced was who should serve as chairman of the delegation.

Dr. Killian asked whether the first order of business should not be rather settlement, at least in outline, of the terms of reference for the discussion. The Secretary said that the Department had given some preliminary thought to this problem. The Geneva talks should be technical in nature, although the delegation could not be freed from considerable political guidance. As an illustration of some of the problems of a non-technical nature which might arise during the discussions, he alluded to Selwyn Lloyd’s idea about installing an inspection system in phases and beginning with a ban on tests of 1 megaton or above. Dr. Killian interjected, with respect to this idea, that, whereas it had not been studied, it would no doubt raise many difficulties in view of the fact that tests of weapons in the smaller yield ranges would provide information of value in the development of larger yield weapons. The Secretary said that he had not meant to go into the question of whether the British idea was a good one or a bad one. Obviously, a United Kingdom objective is not to arrest future weapons development.

[Page 611]

Returning to the question of selection of a chairman, The Secretary said that the chairman should be a scientist of considerable prestige, with an ability to handle men and compose differences. This would be a particularly important attribute in view of the fact that members of the delegation will not all be Americans.

The Secretary felt that the delegation chairman, once chosen, should participate in the process of working out terms of reference.

Dr. Killian agreed and said that he hoped the terms of reference would charge the group with designing an “all-out” system and then indicating the capabilities and limitations of various lesser systems. The Secretary said that this was along the lines of our own thinking, and that he, himself, thought that we may decide, as a matter of political judgment, that the U.S.S.R. would not be willing to undertake the risk involved in violating a system with a 50–75% capability of detection. He thought that the technical group should come up with various alternative possibilities from which the responsible political authorities could choose. Dr. Killian inquired as to the number of people the Secretary thought should be on the U.S. delegation. The Secretary said that he did not have any firm view, that he thought the bulk of the members should be from the U.S., that there should be enough to do the job but no more, and that the delegation should have call on an unlimited number of technical people. Perhaps the delegation should consist of 3 U.S. scientists, 2 from the UK, 1 from France and 1 from Canada. At this point the Secretary left the meeting, asking Mr. Farley to determine whether it was possible to get a list of nominees for delegation chairman.

General Starbird presented the following list: E. O. Lawrence, Norris Bradbury, Commissioner Libby, General Fields, or General Nichols.

Dr. Killian inquired as to what attitude the delegation chairman should have on the general proposition of test suspension. Mr. Farley thought that we should avoid selection of any of the “extremists” on this issue, but that we should not necessarily avoid choosing a chairman who has at some point expressed an opinion on the issue, if he is generally known as a man of scientific objectivity. From the political point of view it would be better to select a chairman who is known to be in favor of test suspension in order to avoid the possibility of future Soviet charges, in case of failure of the talks, that we had selected a man whose initial predispositions doomed the technical discussions.

Mr. Scoville suggested James B. Fisk, of the AEC’s General Advisory Committee, and Dr. Bethe.

Dr. Killian suggested the following names: Dr. Bacher, General Fields, Dr. Bethe, Dr. Lawrence, Dr. York, Dr. Rabi, and Dr. du Bridge.

Mr. Smith said that he thought from the public relations’ point of view, it would be desirable to avoid choosing someone who was known as a “weaponeer.” Dr. Killian agreed and said that from the point of view [Page 612] of experience and ability to get along with foreigners, as well as with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. Rabi would be the ideal choice.

Mr. Farley suggested that representatives of Dr. Killian, the AEC, CIA and the Department of Defense, phone him during the course of the day with an indication of the order of preference, on the basis of the criterion discussed during the meeting, among the names mentioned, in addition to any others which might be thought of in the interim.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Secret. Drafted by Spiers.
  2. Dulles requested British approval of the draft reply during a meeting with Ambassador Sir Harold Caccia on May 18. (Memorandum of conversation, May 18; ibid.) See the Supplement. For text of Khrushchev’s May 9 letter and the U.S. letter as sent on May 24, see Documents on Disarmament, 1945–1959, pp. 1036–1041 and 1043–1044.