156. Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant (Bohlen) to Secretary of State Herter 0


  • Memorandum of Conversation with Ambassador Menshikov

At lunch today alone with Ambassador Menshikov and Smirnovsky the following points emerged:

1. U.S. Elections

Before luncheon Menshikov asked me a whole series of questions concerning the American elections, possible candidates who had the best chance and who might be the probable Secretary of State. I told him that my information was almost entirely obtained from the press and, therefore, was about equal to his; that while it was obvious that Mr. Nixon would be the Republican candidate, the Democratic one still had elements of doubt despite the obvious lead of Senator Kennedy. In regard to the Secretary of State I had no information whatsoever and that I doubted if any of the prospective candidates had as yet made up his mind and I only knew the names that had been mentioned in the press and in the columns.

2. U–2

Menshikov both before and after lunch endeavored to develop discussion concerning the U–2 incident, and in particular why the President had accepted responsibility and had not apologized, which he maintained would have had a radical effect on Khrushchev’s attitude.

I told him this was past history and I saw little point in going into it further, but I merely wished to make one point which related to Mr. Khrushchev’s statement at the Czech Embassy on May 91 before there had been any assumption of responsibility by the President. I said personally I thought this indicated the embarrassing position in which Mr. Khrushchev had put the President had he refrained from accepting responsibility as Head of the American Government.

During the course of this conversation Mr. Menshikov made a remark which left me with the impression that insofar as the Soviet [Page 536] Government and Khrushchev were concerned that unless there was at some time either by this or a future administration an “apology” for the U–2 incident, this would continue to be a big factor in Soviet/American relations. When, however, I challenged him on this saying that if they expect an apology from any administration, either from this one or its successor, they would wait a very long time and that I could only conclude if this was the Soviet position there was little prospect of any improvement in the future, he backed away from this by saying that what he had had in mind was that if a future administration would continue the policy of these “aggressive and provocative” flights there would be little prospect of improvement. I told him that President Eisenhower at Paris had already stated the flights would be suspended so long as he was in office2 and while he could not bind his successor, it would seem to me that U–2 flights were no longer feasible and therefore should not be a future factor in our relations.

At one point in the conversation he asked me directly whether I as adviser on Soviet affairs had known or approved of these flights, to which I told him in the business we were both engaged in there were certain questions to which he could not expect an answer and this was one of them. He quickly abandoned that point.

At another point he mentioned that repetition of U–2 flights would lead to retaliation of the bases, to which I replied I thought this was an extremely irresponsible attitude to have the peace of the world hang upon the possibility of an accidental and unidentified plane flying over Soviet territory. his only answer was that they were able to tell what kind of a plane it was.

3. Current Soviet Policy

I took occasion throughout luncheon to emphasize to Menshikov that while in Soviet procedure it might be possible to run two contradictory policies, this was not possible insofar as the U.S. estimate of Soviet intentions was concerned. I pointed out that on the one hand they are reaffirming their policy of “peaceful co-existence”, settlement of disputes by negotiation, relaxation of tension, etc. while on the other the Head of their Government was losing no occasion to attack the U.S. I said I thought since he was returning to Moscow he should endeavor insofar as he could to make plain to the Soviet Government and Mr. Khrushchev that a continuance of the attacks on the President of the United States would have a long term deleterious effect on our relations; that no matter what the political persuasion in America was, an attack on the President was deeply resented and that if continued it would certainly [Page 537] affect the attitude of the new administration of whatever party it was.

Menshikov attempted to state that Khrushchev was merely replying to attacks on the Soviet Union by American officials but was unable in answer to my question to give any specific cases, except some statements he attributed to Senator Johnson and a speech by the Vice President in South Dakota, I believe.3 I told him that during the presidential campaign obviously things were going to be said by the candidates which might be unpleasant but they did not have anywhere near the same significance as when said by the actual head of a foreign government, pointing out in this connection that the President had refrained from any reply in kind to Mr. Khrushchev’s personal attacks on him and U.S. policy.

Menshikov attempted to depict the President’s statement in regard to interference in domestic affairs as “insulting” to Mr. Khrushchev,4 to which I obviously replied that Khrushchev had indeed commented rather freely on the forthcoming American election. I endeavored at this point of the conversation to impress on him the fact that continued assaults on the United States and the President would cause the American people and Government to have the gravest doubts as to the seriousness of Soviet professions or eventual improvement in relations, which incidentally Menshikov repeatedly asserted was their main goal.

4. Disarmament

Discussion on disarmament revealed nothing new with Menshikov stressing the standard Soviet line that they wanted disarmament and we wanted controls. However, when he said they had broken up the Geneva conference5 in order to get action and progress in the disarmament [Page 538] field by bringing it into the General Assembly, he shifted the subject when I told him this was an extremely unconvincing reason since no one in their right mind could believe that a body as large as the General Assembly could make any concrete progress in disarmament. He incidentally denied what I had been told by Eaton what Zorin said in regard to Soviet ideas of inspection on any reduction-in-force levels,6 i.e. that they would merely inspect the actual reduction without relevance to the previous and resulting levels. Menshikov said this could not be true but qualified it by saying it would depend upon the nature of the “agreement.”

5. Cuba

In connection with my statement that Soviet attitudes in regard to this administration would have a long-term effect on the attitude of the next administration, I mentioned that the Soviet attitude towards the Cuban situation would fit into this category. Menshikov immediately said what he had said to Senator Fulbright,7 that Senator Johnson’s statement about a submarine base was completely out of this world and provocative; the Soviet Union had no intention of establishing bases or any military arrangements in Cuba. He did say, however, that he saw no reason why the Soviet Union could not develop “friendly” relations with Cuba, since we had such relations and even worse from their point of view with many countries bordering on the Soviet Union. I told him I would not argue the question with him, but merely state the fact that too great Soviet involvement in Cuba would have a very important and lasting effect on our relations with the Soviet Union; that he could believe this or not but I was telling him a simple fact. I mentioned in this connection the effect Khrushchev’s visit to Cuba would have in the event he came there and made the type of speech attacking the U.S. and its so-called imperialist policies. Menshikov sought to counter this statement by saying that he could not understand why the President visited countries bordering on the Soviet Union and Khrushchev could not visit Cuba. I said it was not so much the fact of the visit but what he would say when he got there, pointing out that the President on his recent trip to the Middle East8 said no word whatsoever attacking the Soviet Union, but judging from Mr. Khrushchev’s recent utterances there was no guarantee that he would not indulge in insulting statements concerning the U.S. if he visited Cuba, and attempt to arouse the people of Latin [Page 539] America against the United States. Menshikov said no one could foretell what Khrushchev would say, but with regard to the latter point he made the remark that “the people of Latin America” were already aroused against the United States, with which I disagreed.

6. Berlin

Towards the close of the conversation Menshikov emphasized that any holding of the Bundestag as proposed in September in West Berlin would be a “provocation” and the Soviet Union would be faced with a situation when they would be forced to go ahead with the separate treaty. He appeared to be quite emphatic on this point and obviously had had specific instructions on it.

When I told him that in my experience when the Soviets used the word “provocation”, it was grounds for doing something they intended to do anyway, he took very strong exception and stated that the current Soviet position was to leave Berlin alone for six to eight months as stated by Khrushchev, unless there was an attempt by Western powers, in particular West Germany, to introduce some new element into the situation such as the convocation of the Bundestag in Berlin. I told him this was a matter that was under consideration and on which we had not established our definite view.

In general, despite the nature of some of the exchanges, Menshikov was entirely friendly and spoke continuously of the importance of improvement of relations with the United States. Considering the wide range of subjects in the conversation, I believe he is interested in obtaining an estimate of the U.S. attitude to take back to Moscow where he admitted he would “possibly” speak at the Central Committee meeting on July 13.

He seemed to be particularly interested in developing the thesis that Khrushchev had had a very deep regard for the President but that his actions in assuming responsibility and not “apologizing” for the U–2 was largely responsible for the present state of affairs. My impression was that he was disappointed that I would not go into this aspect of the matter with him beyond the statements reported above.

He expects to be gone in Moscow two to three weeks.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Secret. Drafted by Bohlen and initialed by Bohlen; Max V. Krebs, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State; and Secretary Herter.
  2. See Documents 150 and 151.
  3. Eisenhower made this statement at the Heads of Government meeting at Paris, May 16 at 11 a.m.; see vol. IX, Document 168.
  4. Regarding Senator Johnson’s statement, Menshikov was probably referring to Johnson’s remarks at a news conference on July 5 announcing that he was a Democratic candidate for President. In his statement, he said that the next President would be greeted by new Communist threats, including a Russian submarine base in Cuba, which Menshikov specifically referred to later in this conversation. For text of Johnson’s statement, see The New York Times, July 6, 1960. No record of a speech by Nixon in South Dakota at this time has been found. Reference may be to his speech at Minot, North Dakota, on June 20 in which he favored a U.N. pool of surplus food. Nixon indicated that Eisenhower was considering presentation of this proposal at the recent summit meeting, but Khrushchev’s actions there had ruled out Soviet participation in the program at this time. For text of Nixon’s speech, see ibid ., June 21, 1960.
  5. Reference may be to the President’s remarks at his news conference, July 6, in which he referred to Khrushchev’s “very crude attempts to involve himself and his influence, if any, in this country into our affairs,” and he did not think either political party should be concerned about his attempted interference. (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960–61, p. 555)
  6. The Soviet bloc walked out of the Ten-Nation Committee on Disarmament meeting in Geneva on June 27.
  7. The remarks of Valerian A. Zorin, Soviet Representative at the Ten-Nation Committee on Disarmament, to Fredrick M. Eaton, U.S. Representative at the Ten-Nation Committee on Disarmament, have not been further identified.
  8. No further record of this conversation has been found.
  9. Eisenhower visited Turkey, Greece, Afghanistan, India, and Iran in December 1959.