85. Editorial Note

On July 10, President Eisenhower decided to extend an invitation to Chairman Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev for an exchange of visits between the two leaders. Memoranda of conferences between the President and Secretary of State Christian A. Herter on July 9 and 10, at which this decision was made, are printed in volume VIII, Documents 429 and 431.

The idea of inviting Khrushchev to visit the United States had occasionally been discussed by Department of State officials before 1959, usually in connection with a return visit by Eisenhower to the Soviet Union. Moreover, Soviet officials had hinted at their interest in an exchange [Page 310] of visits, and Eisenhower was frequently queried at his press conferences on the idea. Eisenhower consistently stated that he would go anywhere at any time if he felt it would serve the cause of peace. He did not commit himself any further, however, and the prospect of a Khrushchev visit did not make much progress until the summer of 1959.

In the first months of 1959, Eisenhower was constrained from pushing forward with an invitation in part because John Foster Dulles, in his last days as Secretary of State, continued to oppose a Khrushchev visit. Dulles spoke with the President on March 14 about the latter’s idea of inviting Khrushchev to the United States. No record of their conversation has been found, but on the following day Dulles told Under Secretary of State Christian A. Herter and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Livingston T. Merchant, as recounted in a memorandum for the record by Joseph H. Greene, Jr., Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, that “he thought the effects of such an invitation would be to enhance the prestige of Khrushchev and of the Soviet Government and dangerously to undermine the NATO Alliance. Moreover, the Secretary could not imagine any issue on which Khrushchev would make a reliable agreement with us, and he thought that, even if we were to accept the Soviet idea of a bilateral deal to ‘divide up the world’ and settle all its problems, the Soviets would only use this as a spring board for the further expansion of International Communism, not as an end to their aspirations.”

Dulles added that since his conversation with the President it had also occurred to him that an invitation to Khrushchev would undermine Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s efforts to develop a personal relationship for himself, presumably to cater to proponents of detente at home, and he did not think “we should be sticky about letting Macmillan get whatever kudos he can by using the forms of ‘leadership’, as long as we control the substance, because Macmillan’s defeat in the British elections, and the advent of a Labor Government, would confront us with even greater problems than we now have.” (Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers)

Nevertheless, support in the United States for a Khrushchev visit continued to mount. Following his talks with Khrushchev in Moscow in June 1959, Averell Harriman stated that he believed that Khrushchev was profoundly ignorant of the United States and that a visit to this country might help somewhat in correcting his misconceptions of the United States. (Life, July 13, 1959) Moreover, Kozlov’s visit to the United States June 28–July 13 took place without unpleasant incidents and seemed helpful in opening more meaningful discussion on contentious issues between the two countries. Vice President Richard M. Nixon’s impending visit to the Soviet Union in late July further nourished speculation on an invitation to Khrushchev to visit the United States.

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The initiative finally came from President Eisenhower, who asked the Department of State to look into the matter; see Document 83. Eisenhower’s interest in the matter prompted his conferences with Herter on July 9 and 10 (cited above). At these meetings, Eisenhower proposed that Khrushchev visit him at Camp David prior to a meeting of the four heads of government in Quebec, which would be contingent upon progress in negotiations between the Foreign Ministers in Geneva. The result, the President thought, was supposed to be a qualified invitation to Khrushchev, which Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Robert D. Murphy delivered to Kozlov shortly before the latter’s departure from the United States. See Documents 8789.

The President had intended to impose the same conditions for a personal meeting with Khrushchev as for a four-power summit meeting, but Murphy and Under Secretary of State Dillon believed that the invitation conveyed through Kozlov to Khrushchev had been unqualified. A memorandum of the President’s conference with Dillon and Murphy, July 22, on this misunderstanding is printed in volume VIII, Document 466. The President’s recollection of this misunderstanding is printed in Waging Peace, pages 406–407.