159. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Herter 0


The President telephoned with regard to giving the mileage figure in our reply to the Soviet note. The President said he didn’t know how we can avoid this. The President said what it must be is that Defense and CIA must think they have tracking radar station the Soviets know nothing about.

The Secretary said most of it is carried on by another Government. The Secretary said it seemed to him if we make the flat assertion that the [Page 544] plane was not over their territorial land we will be asked the same question as if we say it never got within 30 miles, and the Secretary said it weakened our note considerably not to specify.

The President said that is the way he feels, but said the only thing is if the station is there—but the President said we wouldn’t have to say anything else.

The Secretary said it seemed to him we can always say it came from direct communication with the plane and the Soviets can’t prove or disprove it one way or the other.

The President asked if we didn’t have direct communication.

The Secretary said no; the plane was under orders to communicate if they were in danger but did not do so.

The President said it must have been hit by a sidewinder type of thing. The President said he personally did not see the percentage in saying the plane did not go over Soviet territorial waters and not being able to say it never went within roughly 30 miles.

The Secretary said it weakens our case if we don’t do this.

The President asked what their argument against this was.

The Secretary said they just say it might compromise us, but if we make a flat assertion it didn’t go over territory, he couldn’t see the difference.

The President said if we say that and they say they had a tracking station and sent fighters to check up, will we have to say how we know they didn’t go closer than 30 miles if you have somebody like the World Court involved would you have to say how you knew this.

The Secretary said only up to a certain point.

The President said here is what he thinks—there is a weakness in the argument of the Air Force and Intelligence. The President said they say we never got out of international waters and never went over Soviet territory and how can you say that if you don’t know where the plane was. The President said it seemed to him their argument is silly.

The Secretary said that is just what we have been arguing with them.

The President asked the Secretary to pass along his view to Defense and CIA.

[Here follows discussion of unrelated subjects.]

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations. No classification marking. No drafting information appears on the source text.