161. Memorandum of Conversation Between George F. Kennan and President Tito0

I called on President Tito this morning and spent nearly an hour with him. The visit took place at his initiative; I had made no suggestion or request of this nature. I was simply informed by the Institute for International Politics and Economics that the visit would be part of my program. Before going to the President’s office I was twice advised by Mr. Stanovnik, the Director of the Institute, that this was not to be merely a protocol visit but that the President would wish to discuss matters of substance. In reply I pointed out that I was only a private individual and could speak for no one but myself but would be happy to discuss any matters he cared to discuss.

The only other person present at the interview was the President’s political secretary, Leo Mates. The discussion began, at the President’s request in English, and I think he wanted it informally documented that this was the language of discussion; however, we soon moved over to Russian and finished the discussion in that language.

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After the usual initial pleasantries the President opened the political part of the discussion by stating it as his opinion that the United States Government would, after the forthcoming change of administration, have to have new concepts and approaches in the field of foreign policy and that these would have to be united in some sort of positive program. Otherwise, he thought, there would be continued difficulties and possibilities of a preclusive reduction of American prestige and the effectiveness of American diplomacy.

He then brought up the subject of Cuba and said that they could not help but feel sympathy for a small and economically weak country faced with the proximity of a large and powerful one. On the other hand, he could not entirely approve of the abrupt manner in which the Cubans had done what they had done.1 He did feel that this was an important test of American policy and that much would depend on the nature of the American reaction.

I replied by saying that I thought it was the universal impression among Americans, and one which I personally shared, that we had been extremely patient with the Cubans; that there had initially been no prejudice against the Castro regime in the United States—on the contrary—he had come to the United States and been received in a friendly manner; and that I did not know what we could have done other than what we had done to show our patience and good will. Specifically, I thought the action taken with regard to the sugar quota2 was the least we could do to protect our interest and represented an action which the Cubans had to expect.

The President indicated agreement with this view, and I gathered that he did not feel that our action with regard to the quota had been in any way unreasonable. His somewhat torn feelings about this question seemed to center more round the general tone of American reaction than round the specific measures we had taken, and I gathered that while he had no strong objection to voice to anything we had done thus far, he would be extremely sensitive to anything that looked like efforts on our part to apply military pressure and aggressive economic sanctions against the Cubans. For this reason I told him it was, in my opinion, most unlikely that we would undertake any military intervention in Cuba unless the Cubans behaved so provocatively as to arouse real violent reactions in American public opinion and Congressional circles. Barring anything of this sort, it was my impression that we would probably move through the Organization of American States, and that much would depend on the reactions on the Latin American neighbors. [Page 434] I pointed out that the Venezuelans and other Latin American countries might also be the sufferers from the actions taken by the Cubans against American interests. I also pointed out to him that this was not just a question of what had been done but also of how it had been done; and stated that if the Cuban Government had decided that it did not want private foreign investment in Cuba and had approached us in a conciliatory and respectful way with a program designed to liquidate such investment in a manner least injurious to American interests, I felt sure that we would have been willing to collaborate even though we could not approve of the spirit of the measures; but when such actions were taken provocatively, in a manner deliberately offensive to our country and detrimental to our prestige it was impossible for us to show patience indefinitely.

He asked me who I thought was influencing the Cubans and whether it was not the Chinese more than the Russians. I said I was not informed about this and could give him no answer; that the actions taken by the Cubans seemed to me to correspond more closely to Chinese concepts of the cold war than to the Russian ones; but I had no precise information of any sort on this point. I said that obviously the Russians were deeply interested in this situation and it was my own view that the main source of their interest might be to build up their position in Cuba for its nuisance value with a view to bringing pressure on us at a later date to reduce the dimensions of our military commitment in Iran and perhaps in other Soviet-border countries in return for a comparable reduction of their activities in Cuba. On this the President did not comment.

Turning to the European theatre, the President observed that no one wanted the unification of Germany and that the present situation would have to endure for a long time. He saw no reason why this would not occur without producing great tension. I pointed to the Berlin situation as the main element of danger in the continuation of the present situation. He stated that Khrushchev was interested in Berlin only as a lever for getting concessions out of the West: if such concessions could not be achieved Khrushchev had no interest in going ahead with the peace treaty project.

He asked about the Soviet proposal for a free city of Berlin.3 I replied that it had been my personal view that while the proposal as made by the Russians was quite unacceptable I thought it might have received more serious study and consideration than was the case in the Western countries; however, it had to be recognized that the West German [Page 435] Government was dead [set] against any such idea and that for the Western allies to give consideration to the proposal would have meant to override the feelings of Bonn, and also of the West Berlin leaders on a matter of most intimate importance to them. He said that he himself thought that this idea, to have any reality, would have to be applied to the entire City of Berlin and not just to the Western sectors. I said I heartily agreed and also that any conceivable change in the status of Berlin would, in my opinion, have to include guaranteed facilities of communication with the outside world to be extended as a right—and not as at present—as a privilege. He voiced no objection to this, and I gathered he felt it was reasonable.

I took occasion to say to him that whatever happened in this problem it was out of the question that we could abandon the Western sectors of Berlin to any form of East German control; that this was not a partisan issue in America, both parties were agreed on it; that the West Berliners had shown courage, firmness and loyalty to us, and we would remain loyal to them.

I asked him whether he thought it would be useful if Bonn were to attempt to develop its economic and cultural relations with various Eastern European countries on a bilateral basis. He said he definitely thought it would: that this might even help with time to render the deeper political problems somewhat easier of solution. He laughed about the German break with Yugoslavia, saying that it had hardly affected the course of events at all.4

The talk turned to the Far East. I said I thought there was a certain evolution of opinion in our country on relations with China and that it was even possible that consideration might be given, after the change in administration, to modifications of our position with regard to official bilateral relations with China and to the participation of China in the UN. However, I wished to emphasize that people at home were under no great illusions about the possibility for agreement with the Chinese in any substantive issues. With the Russians it was one thing: we had our differences but there was no real underlying hatred; in many ways we respected and admired each other, and there was a bond of mutual appreciation among our peoples. With the Chinese we had the feeling that we were up against real emotional prejudice of the most violent sort, and that while we might have made our mistakes in policy toward China at one time or another that these mistakes did not justify or explain the violence of the Chinese Communist hatred directed toward us. Things would have to change therefore on the Chinese Communist side [Page 436] as well as on ours before any progress could be made, and it would be a long process.

The President listened attentively to all this but made no comment other than the Yugoslavs themselves knew something about the violence of the Chinese Communist emotional prejudice, and that if we were denounced in the way we were, they, too, were also denounced for allegedly being our agents.

I asked him whether he was satisfied with the state of American-Yugoslav relations and he said everything was proceeding very smoothly here.

The only specific criticism he had to make of American policy was that we often defeated ourselves in our foreign aid programs by first making generous undertakings and then destroying the psychological effect of them by petty restrictions and demands.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 768.11/7–1160. Confidential. Drafted by Kennan and sent as an enclosure to a July 11 letter from O’Shaughnessy to Kohler. Kennan, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, was in Yugoslavia for 3 days of meetings at the Institute of International Politics and Economics at Belgrade. In January 1961 President Kennedy appointed him Ambassador to Yugoslavia.
  2. Apparently a reference to the expropriation by the Cuban Government of property owned by U.S. oil companies on June 29 and July 1.
  3. The United States cut off Cuban sugar imports on July 6.
  4. Prior to the summit conference of May 1960, the Soviet Government reiterated its view that the creation of a free city was the only alternative to a separate peace agreement between the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic.
  5. The Federal Republic of Germany broke relations with Yugoslavia on October 19, 1957, after the Yugoslav Government announced its diplomatic recognition of the German Democratic Republic.