64. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Mikoyan’s Call on the President


  • The President
  • The Secretary of State
  • Livingston T. Merchant, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
  • Llewellyn E. Thompson, American Ambassador to the Soviet Union
  • First Deputy Prime Minister Mikoyan
  • Ambassador Menshikov
  • Mr. Troyanovski

[Here follow introductory remarks and discussion on Berlin and Germany printed in volume VIII, Document 137.]

After a prompting by Ambassador Menshikov, Mikoyan referred to the President’s reply last summer to Khrushchev’s letter on trade.1 This reply had produced a favorable impression but there had been no subsequent progress in this field. The Secretary of State had suggested that he meet with Under Secretary Dillon and he had therefore not discussed this matter with the Secretary of State. The President in his letter had pointed out that even now there was the possibility of developing trade but one difficulty was that the commercial treaty between the Soviet Union and the United States had been denounced. The Congress had also passed legislation directed against the Soviet Union.2 They had [Page 238] no desire to buy arms or strategic materials and in fact could sell us some.

[Here follows a brief paragraph crossed out on the source text, which reads: “The President said he had no money. Mikoyan retorted that he had so much he didn’t know what to do with it and therefore spent it on arms.”]

The President said that Mr. Dillon was a very reasonable and well informed man and he was sure that Mr. Mikoyan’s conversation with him would be valuable and interesting. He asked Mr. Mikoyan to carry back to Mr. Khrushchev his thanks for the cordial greeting and say that he reciprocated the sentiments he had expressed for his health and happiness. He was prepared to use the final part of his term to promote a better relationship and he was convinced that this could be brought about. Mr. Mikoyan had spoken of making a beginning. The President had hoped that this beginning had been realized when the Austrian peace treaty was signed and at that time he had expressed the hope that it would be possible to have talks with the Soviet leaders. This had been done at the Geneva conference. Two things had come up there that had aroused great interest and hope. The first was the possibility that Germany could be reunited in such a way that Germany would not become a danger. The agreement had been that this would be done peacefully and by popular elections. The President did not agree that we were too much influenced by any individual in our efforts to resolve these problems. We did not know of any other way of doing this except by free elections. He pointed out that free elections were in our tradition. If we tried to establish an imposed peace we would have to keep observers and maintain forces in order to make Germany observe the conditions imposed and we knew of no practical way other than free elections. We do not desire that there be another militarized Germany. We had had four experiences of German militarism and wanted no more. In our view, Germany also wanted no militarism. In the associations in which West Germany had become a member, provisions in regard to German armaments had been made and had been observed. It was fair to say that we would share the Soviets’ anxieties if Germany got in a position to start trouble but the Germans were a strong, virile people and if oppressed could react in a way which we would consider undesirable. It was also important to both of us to remember that if the Germans did not have to bear the cost of arms they would have an advantage in economic competition. We wanted a peaceful Germany united in such a way that neither the Soviet Union nor the United States could have any apprehension about it.

Another point which had come up in the Geneva talks had been the increased contacts, visits, exchanges of literature, etc. The President had sent a letter to Mr. Khrushchev, or perhaps it was to Mr. Bulganin, [Page 239] saying that we would welcome visits here of high Soviet officials3 and he would like to feel that Mr. Mikoyan’s visit here was a result of that invitation. The idea of these exchanges had not been implemented in the way it should. We had made arrangements for the exchange of twenty or thirty students but these exchanges should be in the hundreds if we could find enough who had the requisite knowledge of the language. The Russian language appeared to be harder for us than our language was for the Russian people.

The President said he would not speak about trade as Mr. Mikoyan would talk with Mr. Dillon on this but he thought this was an area in which we could seek better relations. We both put too much of our work and talent into arms. In this field we must so act that we can make prog-ress but with confidence in what we are doing. The President said that he wished to conclude as he had started by saying he was persuaded the peoples of both countries wanted peace, and opportunity to improve their cultural level and to raise their standard of living. This basic truth should guide us even when we disagree on some specific problem. He wished to thank Mr. Mikoyan for having come to visit us and if he had encountered bad manners anywhere on his trip he wished him to know that this did not express the attitude of the United States.

[Here follows discussion of Berlin and Germany printed in volume VIII, Document 137.]

Mikoyan said that the President had spoken of military expenditure and he could express full agreement with his remarks. Some of the American cabinet officers and particularly the Minister of Defense had said that the Soviet Union should reduce its arms and expenditures.4 Mikoyan said that he had replied that this was what they wanted to do but if they did it unilaterally they were afraid the United States would continue to develop its position of strength.

The President interjected that this was what we both always said.

Mikoyan said that then we should both do it together. He pointed out that in the past three years the Soviets had made no increase in their military expenditures whereas the United States expenditures had been very high and Congress on occasion even increased the proposals made by the President which were already at a very high level.

[Page 240]

[Here follows discussion of Germany printed in volume VIII, Document 137.]

Mikoyan said that he had been pleased when the President spoke about developing contacts. Some practical steps in this field had been taken and neither side had reason to be disappointed as reciprocity had been observed and both sides had been correct. With respect to students we should exchange not 100 but several hundred. It was true that the Soviet Union preferred to start with a smaller number and he could say frankly why they were so cautious. The Soviet Union was suspicious of the United States intelligence service although it was headed by a very pleasant man, the brother of the Secretary of State, whom he had met last evening. The Soviet Government suspected, although they might be wrong, that this exchange would be used for other purposes than study. If they were real students this was all right but if they were agents it is another matter.

The President interrupted to say that he would be very surprised if it were possible to take an 18 year old student and make an intelligence agent out of him.

Mikoyan said the outcome would depend upon the behavior of the students.

The President said we must develop a situation of confidence so that there would be no need for this feeling of secrecy.

Mikoyan said that Mr. Johnston had arranged an exchange of films and this was important because pictures influence people.

Secretary Dulles observed that certain films were not always helpful, such as crime pictures. Mikoyan replied that they did not make such films and would not take them from us. He said the Soviet films which they were supplying us contained virtually no propaganda and he hoped the President would see them.

[Here follow discussion of Berlin and Germany and concluding remarks printed in volume VIII, Document 137.]

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Thompson. The meeting was held at the White House. Attached to the source text are three memoranda. One from Dulles to the President, January 15, indicates that he would have an oral report for the President on the morning of January 17 concerning his talks with Mikoyan on January 16 and enclosing a briefing paper with suggested talking points for the President’s conversation with Mikoyan. In the second memorandum to the President, January 16, Dulles made additional points the President might wish to raise with Mikoyan. The third memorandum from Dulles to the President, January 16, summarized Dulles’ conversation with Mikoyan on the morning of January 16. From 8:27 to 8:59 a.m. on January 17, the President met with Dulles, Merchant, Thompson, and Hagerty at which time Dulles presumably briefed the President orally on his meetings with Mikoyan. (Ibid., President’s Appointment Book)
  2. For texts of Khrushchev’s letter to Eisenhower, June 2, 1958, and Eisenhower’s reply, July 14, 1958, on expansion of U.S.-Soviet trade, see Department of State Bulletin, August 4, 1958, pp. 200–202.
  3. Reference is apparently to the commercial agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States of August 4, 1937. (11 Bevans 1271) This agreement was denounced in the Trade Agreements Extension Act of 1951. (65 Stat. 72) Section 5 of that act required the President to deny the benefits of trade agreement concessions to imports from the Soviet Union and its satellites.
  4. For text of Eisenhower’s letter to Bulganin, February 15, 1958, proposing, among other things, visits by prominent Soviet citizens to the United States, see Department of State Bulletin, March 10, 1958, pp. 373–376.
  5. In his January 15 memorandum to the President, attached to the source text, Dulles mentioned that following his meetings with Mikoyan on January 16, he, Vice President Nixon, and other Cabinet members would have dinner with Mikoyan. It may be that the comments of Secretary of Defense McElroy and other Cabinet officials on armaments were made during this dinner.