95. Memorandum of Conversation0
- Vice President’s Kremlin Conversation with Khrushchev
- United States—Vice President Nixon, Ambassador Thompson, Dr. Milton Eisenhower, Mr. Alexander Akalovsky (interpreting)
- USSR—Mr. Khrushchev, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR
- V.V. Kuznetsov, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
- S.R. Striganov, Deputy Chief, American Countries Section, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
- Mr. Troyanovski (interpreting)
The conversation took place in the Kremlin, Moscow, USSR.
At the outset of the conversation, the Vice President stated that he wanted to deliver a personal letter from the President to Mr. Khrushchev.1 Mr. Khrushchev expressed his thanks for the letter.
There followed an exchange between Mr. Khrushchev and Dr. Eisenhower in the course of which Mr. Khrushchev, noting that Dr. Eisenhower is a smoker, said that President Eisenhower does not smoke and that apparently only his younger brother still has that bad habit.
Dr. Eisenhower replied that it is all right to have bad habits in small things and to excel in big things.[Page 337]
Mr. Khrushchev then said that the weather in Moscow is very good now and that he hoped that the Vice President and his party will have a pleasant stay in the USSR.
The Vice President agreed that the weather in Moscow this time of the year is better than in Washington and then referred to his morning visit to a farmers’ market which had reminded him of his younger days when he used to get up so early in order to buy the produce for his father’s grocery store. He said that all the people and, in particular, the veterans he had met at the market had expressed great friendship for the people of the United States.
Mr. Khrushchev confirmed that the Soviet people have a great respect for the United States and particularly appreciate the joint efforts of the two countries in the war against hitler. The United States has always been at the pinnacles of industrial development, economic progress, and standard of living; therefore, competition with such a country is a pleasant undertaking.
The Vice President said that he wanted to state that, in spite of what the Prime Minister might have heard to the contrary, there had been very favorable comment in the United States with regard to Mr. Khrushchev’s vitality and keen sense of humor, as well as to his statements concerning competition with our country. The Vice President, recalling his speech,2 at least a part of which had received favorable comment by Mr. Khrushchev, stated that the United States had nothing against this kind of competition. He also observed, in a jocular comment, that Mr. Khrushchev during his visit in Poland, where he had covered a lot of ground and visited many factories, had outdone many an American politician, as far as vigorousness and vitality were concerned.
Mr. Khrushchev replied that these are individual qualities which do no harm to anybody. Recalling his comments on the Vice President’s speech, he said at that time he had wondered whether that speech had indeed been made by Mr. Nixon, because it had sounded so different from what he had been accustomed to hearing from Mr. Nixon. Of course, the end of the speech had been much better than the beginning. He said that he believed that if the United States and the USSR ended their arguments and polemics the way the Vice President had ended his speech, that would mean that the two sides would have at last appraised the situation correctly. However, actions such as the so-called Resolution [Page 338] on Captive Nations3 indicate that the chances for such a correct appraisal on the part of the United States are rather slim.
Vice President Nixon said that Mr. Khrushchev’s words only confirmed the old proverb that “the devil is not as red as he is painted”. Referring to Mr. Khrushchev’s remarks regarding the Resolution on Captive Nations, the Vice President said that there is one thing that he personally and the American people respect in Mr. Khrushchev and that is his frankness. Therefore, he appreciated Mr. Khrushchev’s comments, but at the same time he wanted to point out that this resolution does not represent a new position of Congress, but rather the fact, which cannot be overlooked, that in our country there are citizens with a national background from Europe and Eastern Europe. These people, of course, make their views known, and Mr. Khrushchev may disagree with those views, but actions of Congress reflect public opinion in our country. The Vice President also pointed out that the President had specifically excluded from his proclamation the language referring to the territories now forming a part of the USSR, which was contained in the resolution of Congress. The resolution points up an aspect of the American system, an aspect which might be difficult to understand, that actions of this type cannot be controlled as far as their timing is concerned, even by the President, because, when Congress moves, that is its prerogative. Neither the President nor he personally, the Vice President continued, would have chosen deliberately to have a resolution of this type when he and the President’s brother were planning on visiting the USSR. Nevertheless, the resolution expresses substantial views of the people in our country. The Vice President once again stated that the resolution is not a new tack, but rather a reiteration of a position repeatedly expressed in the past.
Mr. Khrushchev stated that any action by an authoritative body such as Congress must have a purpose and expressed his bewilderment as to the purpose of this particular action. He pointed out that the proclamation in question cannot change anything in the USSR or for that matter in any other country. It would be naive to believe that it could. Emphasizing that he always speaks frankly, Mr. Khrushchev recalled US intervention at the time of the birth of the Soviet regime and pointed out that if US troops could not change anything and were thrown out of the country, it is obvious that a proclamation cannot bring about any [Page 339] change whatsoever. He said that the Soviet Government had regarded the Vice President’s visit as a contact serving the purpose of rapprochement between the US and the USSR. However, the “ticket” issued to the Vice President by Congress for his visit here will make his situation in the USSR more difficult than if it had not been for that; now there is suspicion toward the Vice President and although the Vice President will not encounter anything offensive, he can be sure that he will encounter questions and straightforward talk on the part of the Soviet people regarding this resolution wherever he goes.
The Vice President observed that that might do some good, since straightforward talk is useful.
Mr. Khrushchev observed that the press might play up catcalls if they should occur, to which the Vice President remarked that he had already had some experience as far as catcalls are concerned. However, Mr. Khrushchev continued, the Soviet Government does not want any repetition of the Vice President’s past experiences in that regard and is sure that it will not occur.
The Vice President assured Mr. Khrushchev that he was not concerned about his safety in the USSR.
Mr. Khrushchev emphasized that the Vice President is absolutely safe in the USSR and pointed out that in spite of the fact that his own person is of some interest to the enemies of the USSR he walks about freely, and has no apprehensions as far as his physical security is concerned. The attitude of the Soviet people is such as to make him very proud. He assured the Vice President that the Vice President could go any place without any fear for his safety; of course the Soviet Union also has thieves and hooligans among its population. In addition to that there may be some crackpots, both quiet and violent, so that as far as these categories of people are concerned some precaution should be taken.
The Vice President noted that sometimes the main task of security is to protect high officials from overfriendly crowds who in their enthusiasm might injure them. Mr. Khrushchev agreed and recalled an experience of this type he had had during his visit to India.4
The Vice President stated that he wanted to make one additional point. He said that we have to realize that in this era of peaceful competition, and the US trusts that we are entering and are going to stay in that era, we must expect that each side will vigorously express its views regarding the best methods for achieving progress. For example, Mr. Kozlov, during his visit in the United States, expressed the thought, which is not new, that his system is superior. On the other hand we will also [Page 340] defend vigorously our ideas, but always in peaceful rather than belligerent or provocative terms. This is all to the good because progress in the world has always resulted from competition of words and ideas rather than of peoples against one another.
Mr. Khrushchev fully agreed with this statement and again observed that he could not recognize the Vice President, because these words were so different from what he had heard the Vice President say in the past.
The Vice President said that the resolution of Congress to which Mr. Khrushchev had been referring is an example of this expression of ideas. The proclamation by the President is of the same nature and issued with full authority, although of course Mr. Khrushchev may think differently.
Mr. Khrushchev replied that he did not dispute the prerogatives of the President and the fact that he has full confidence of the elective body. He welcomed the Vice President’s remark that any expression of ideas should not be belligerent or provocative and referred in this connection to the fact that the Soviet Union has a law against propaganda for war. Propaganda for war is an abnormal form of human conduct; it should be prosecuted and those guilty of such actions should be either imprisoned or placed in an asylum. The Soviet Union wanted nothing other than peaceful competition.
The Vice President said that the United States does not object to Mr. Khrushchev’s remarks in which he expresses his belief that our children will live under socialism or when he says that his system should prevail in that part of the world that is not socialist today. In this competition of ideas each side will indicate its belief that its own system will prevail. If Mr. Khrushchev regards the proclamation referred to as being provocative, although it does not make any reference to the use of force or any such thing, then, by the same token, some of his statements could be regarded as provocative. The point is that we must realize that there are differences between our two countries and that differences lead to debates. We must assume that in such debates each side will try to present its views as vigorously and effectively as it can, but again we believe that they should be presented in peaceful, rather than belligerent, terms.
Mr. Khrushchev inquired which of his statements had been provocative. The Vice President replied that, when he had said provocative, he had primarily had in mind the interpretation of some statements by people who did not hear the tone and the exact context in which the statement had been made. He emphasized that we must not regard criticism as being something provocative, since criticism is always a useful factor in human progress. He also said that he did not regard Mr. Khrushchev’s statement that our children would live under socialism as provocative; however, what is provocative is any reference to the use of [Page 341] force, and for this reason everyone, and particularly our two great nations, must show great restraint in that respect. The Vice President noted that the President, as well as himself, has no doubt regarding Mr. Khrushchev’s devotion to peace and had great admiration for the work done by him for his country. Recalling his morning stroll, the Vice President said that he was impressed by the people he had seen hurrying to work and apparently experiencing great satisfaction in what they were doing. Undoubtedly Mr. Khrushchev’s inspiration has contributed to a considerable extent to this situation. While he disagrees with much of what is done in this country, the Vice President remarked, he does agree with certain things that are done here. The Vice President expressed confidence that Mr. Khrushchev, as a thinker, will realize that in the United States there is a free press and that individual citizens can and do express their own views at any time they wish. There may be times when views of individual citizens do not represent the views of the President, a person of great restraint and great responsibility with statements regarding foreign affairs. There are even some individuals who make statements which can be characterized as saber rattling. Therefore, in analyzing the situation it is important that a distinction be made between official policy and individual views.
Mr. Khrushchev rejoined by saying that his own point of view on this subject, with which the Vice President may not agree, is that words such as free press, equal opportunities for everyone, etc., are an old story which is learned by children in school. The fact is that, for example, the opportunities of an unemployed person to use the press for expressing his views cannot be compared with the opportunities of such a person as, for instance, Mr. Hearst,5 since Mr. Hearst controls some 15 newspapers and would never allow the publication of any statement directed against him. This in effect is capitalist censorship. Apparently trying to avoid further conversation on this subject, Mr. Khrushchev said that he would not object to a continued debate, if the Vice President insisted, but suggested that there was no point in arguing since both sides would not change their views anyway. Mr. Khrushchev then stated that the Soviet people believed that capitalism was a progressive system at one stage of human development; it brought about great industrial progress, particularly in the United States, where new production methods such as assembly lines, etc., were introduced under that system. However, they do believe that capitalism is on the downgrade and that it should be replaced with a new, socialist system. Mr. Khrushchev pointed out that he was not trying to convert the Vice President since the time was too short and since he did not believe that he could succeed in doing that anyhow. Reverting again to the Congressional resolution, [Page 342] Mr. Khrushchev stated that the Soviet Government regards this action very seriously since it is a clear case of interference in internal affairs of the countries referred to in the document. Raising somewhat his voice, Mr. Khrushchev emphasized that those nations do not live by the mercy of the United States and reiterated that the United States cannot bring about any change, unless it wants to start a war. However, the Soviet Union had won wars in which attempts had been made to change the course of history, and this should be remembered. The Soviet Government could not escape the conclusion that some people in the United States want the cold war and continued international tension. Actions such as the proclamation on captive nations incite peoples against their governments as well as against the Soviet Government and the Soviet people. The fact that Congress had passed such a resolution, Mr. Khrushchev observed, is a frightening thing; it is frightening not because of the fact itself that this “stupid” decision had been passed but rather because it indicates the attitude prevailing in Congress, although of course it does not reflect the attitude of the American people. This means that Congress can do just about anything, and can take just about any action, including starting a war. In the past the Soviet Government believed Congress could never adopt a decision to start a war, but now it appears that although Mr. McCarthy, Joseph R. McCarthy,6 with whom the Vice President had sympathized to a certain extent, is only dead physically, but his spirit is still alive. For this reason the Soviet Union has to keep its powder dry. Mr. Khrushchev reiterated that the Soviet Government and the Soviet people regard the resolution as a provocation and again warned the Vice President that he might have difficulties and some serious discussions on this score during his visit. Apologizing for the strong peasant language he was going to use, Mr. Khrushchev quoted a Russian peasant proverb to emphasize his point. The action of the Congress and the Presidential proclamation at the time when the Vice President was coming to the Soviet Union amounted exactly to provocation and can harm only the Vice President. The Soviet Union has no fears—it cannot be frightened because it has strength to defend itself. Actions such as this outright provocation are dangerous, particularly in view of the fact that the United States is the strongest among the Western powers.
The Vice President replied that if the concept of peaceful competition, which Mr. Khrushchev always supports so eloquently, is to prevail, both sides have to resign themselves to this sort of thing. He also noted that the same criticism could be applied to certain statements [Page 343] made by Soviet leaders regarding our system and that he could not understand why two different yardsticks should be used.
Mr. Khrushchev stated that the Soviet Union had never taken any action similar to that taken by Congress. There has never been a decision by the Supreme Soviet which could be considered as offensive, and the Supreme Soviet had refrained from taking such actions even after ill-considered actions by the other side. Distinction must be made between individual statements and pronouncements by legislative bodies. Actions by legislative bodies cannot be taken lightly and since it was the US legislature that had adopted this resolution, the question arises what the next step will be—a war?
The Vice President emphasized that his analysis of the President’s proclamation is that it represents a peaceful exposition of a point of view rather than any mention of action. This is precisely what peaceful competition is.
Mr. Khrushchev retorted that such arguments were naive and could not convince him. He observed that the Vice President had practiced as a lawyer while he himself had worked as a miner and that even by the standards of a miner’s ethics the proclamation is a provocation.
The Vice President stated that the United States believes that any statement by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR carries full authority not only of the legislature but also of the entire nation. In view of that fact the question arises whether Mr. Khrushchev believes that he should desist from statements that governments should be changed. The Vice President pointed out that this was not a criticism but rather an effort to expose the inconsistency in Mr. Khrushchev’s attitude.
Mr. Khrushchev remarked that apparently the Vice President does not follow his speeches as closely as he follows the Vice President’s. If the Vice President did, he would have noted that Mr. Khrushchev’s speeches never call for changes in government and that the Soviet policy is that this is an internal matter. On the other hand the Congressional resolution is a clear case of interference in internal affairs. Mr. Khrushchev said that without wanting to be offensive, he could not resist remarking that even intelligent people can have difficulty in defending stupid actions.
The Vice President replied that he believed that this is simply a case of differences of opinion or perhaps differences of approach. He jokingly remarked that Mr. Khrushchev with his eloquence could also make a good lawyer. But it appeared to him that Mr. Khrushchev was putting more emphasis on this resolution, on its importance, and on its meaning than it has in Washington. The Vice President pointed out that the President and himself, while they may be misguided occasionally, [Page 344] are not stupid and would not have passed a resolution of this kind at this time. The President believes that the Geneva Conference is in its critical stage and he wants such meetings to take place in the best possible atmosphere for negotiation. For this reason neither the President nor himself would have sat down to pass such a resolution at this time. The United States is not trying to make the Soviet leaders angry; what it is trying for is frank talks in good humor. The Vice President recalled the fact that whenever there is a lengthy discussion of some subject which seems to be getting nowhere, the President always says: “We have beaten this horse to death; let’s change to another”. The Vice President suggested that this saying should also apply to the topic under discussion.
Mr. Khrushchev pointed out that the Soviet leaders have always held the President in very high esteem, they have always believed that he is a person with extremely high moral standards and a very frank and sincere human being. Referring to the Vice President’s remark that neither the President nor he himself is stupid, Mr. Khrushchev said that this brings up the question of what, in such a case, the Vice President’s opinion of Congress is. Commenting on the Vice President’s observation that Mr. Khrushchev appears to attach too great an importance to the resolution, Mr. Khrushchev again apologized for using strong words, and in obscene language objected to the resolution. It is fresh in everybody’s minds, Khrushchev said, and this is why the Soviet people have such strong feelings about it. When the atmosphere clears he will proceed with other problems. He agreed with the President’s saying that “We should not beat one horse too much”.
The Vice President stated that before leaving he wanted to discuss one point with Mr. Khrushchev, which was necessary for his own and Dr. Milton Eisenhower’s guidance in the future. The point is that many members of the press are going to follow the Vice President’s group and will want to know what was discussed in these meetings. The Vice President noted that he had visited some 52 foreign countries, had met the heads of state and government in all of those countries, and that he has a standing rule which he always observes, namely, to disclose such conversations only to the President. Therefore, Mr. Khrushchev will have no experience with him as he had with some other visitors.
Mr. Khrushchev agreed to this procedure and stated that the Soviet Government will not abuse the Vice President’s confidence either.
The Vice President replied that he had no doubts about Mr. Khrushchev’s confidence and that he only wanted to assure him that these talks would be kept in strictest confidence. He also expressed his appreciation for the warm welcome accorded Mrs. Nixon, himself, Dr. [Page 345] Eisenhower, and the other members of the group in Moscow as well as for the opportunity to talk with Mr. Khrushchev.
Mr. Khrushchev replied that the Soviet people always believed that they should treat their visitors so that they would not feel ashamed when they met again.
The meeting ended at 11:55 a.m., and the United States and the Soviet group left for a preview of the American Exhibition at Sokolniki Park.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100–NI/7–2459. Confidential. Drafted by Akalovsky and approved by Kohler on August 31. For Nixon’s account of this conversation, see Six Crises, pp. 269–272.↩
- Regarding Eisenhower’s July 20 letter to Khrushchev, see Document 92.↩
- Reference may be to Nixon’s speech before the English Speaking Union in London on November 26, 1958. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, January 5, 1959, pp. 14–17. In his conversation with Nixon on January 6, Mikoyan noted that Soviet leaders including Khrushchev, had been favorably impressed by the London speech; see Document 61.↩
- On July 17, Congress passed a joint resolution which authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation designating the third week in July “Captive Nations Week” and to issue a similar proclamation each year until the peoples of Soviet-dominated nations attained their freedom and independence. (73 Stat. 212) For text of the President’s July 17 proclamation, which responded to this joint resolution, see Department of State Bulletin, August 10, 1959, p. 200. Regarding the origin and timing of the resolution, see Document 20.↩
- Khrushchev visited India November 18–30, 1955.↩
- William Randolph Hearst, Jr., editor in chief of the Hearst newspapers.↩
- Republican Senator from Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957.↩