6. Despatch From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State0

No. 145


  • Desp. 57, July 28, 1958 (Housing); Desp. 68, July 31, 1958 (Science, Liberal Arts); Desp. 79, August 7, 1958 (University Presidents)1


  • American Exchange Delegations in the Soviet Union—The Experience So Far

Members of American delegations to the Soviet Union under the exchange agreement have undoubtedly visited more Soviet enterprises, farms, and government institutions during the last ten months than all American officials taken together since the war. As indicated in the despatches under reference, and others to come, these delegations have been able to meet Soviet citizens and observe aspects of Soviet life heretofore virtually inaccessible to American officials. On the basis of their experiences it should prove possible to make a more reliable and detailed appraisal of Soviet science, technology, certain social institutions, and popular attitudes than has been possible heretofore.

The Soviet Performance

In general, the Soviet hosts have taken the delegations to most of the places that they have specifically requested to see and have opened up their factories, offices, and other institutions to a surprising extent, considering the nature of the Soviet system. Closed area problems are often encountered, however, and can only be overcome in certain cases, even when reciprocity in the US is offered. Soviet professional and technical people have often frankly and openly discussed their problems with their American counterparts. In most cases, no expense or effort has been spared to provide for the Americans’ comfort and convenience within the limits of the sometimes inadequate facilities available. The American delegates have received a friendly reception everywhere, and Soviet hospitality has frequently been overwhelming. Political discussions have, as a rule, been scrupulously avoided by both sides, a practice which has helped to create a relaxed and felicitous atmosphere.

The American delegates’ experiences have, by no means, however, all been favorable. Soviet authorities have generally tended to show the [Page 15] delegates their best work and have frequently concealed weaknesses by what appears to be calculated efforts at deception. Sensitive of criticism from a more advanced industrial country which they are dedicated to overtake and surpass, the Soviets have frequently used all sorts of excuses, such as the unavailability of travel or hotel space, to deflect visits from certain cities or establishments. Pride, security considerations, and fear of adverse publicity abroad, which could have unfortunate repercussions on Communist propaganda, are probably responsible for their evasion or refusal of certain requests. The Soviet authorities have discouraged in various ways the delegations’ contacts with ordinary citizens, and peasants in particular. Most of the delegations, with the possible exception of one or two of the many agricultural groups, have not succeeded in acquiring any very clear picture of life on a collective farm. In attempting to cut down opportunities for observing Soviet weaknesses, the authorities have also caused the delegates to spend more time in museums, exhibits, tourism, and banquets than has seemed warranted. Frequently, the delegations have succeeded in seeing a great deal only as a result of skillful negotiation of the itinerary and by insisting on tending to business.

The American Performance

The American delegates have consistently reflected great credit on the United States. Friendly, communicative, and poised, the delegates have put on a personal and professional performance usually outshining that of their Soviet hosts. The Embassy believes that the Americans, in combining easy friendliness and professional know-how, have inspired respect wherever they have gone. Applying themselves to their assignment at a pace that has sometimes caused their Soviet hosts to falter, the American delegates have generally taken a firm line in the face of Soviet efforts at evasion and deception. As a result, the delegations’ visits have been very successful from both an intelligence and public relations point of view.

As anticipated, the delegations have acquired less scientific and technological information than the Soviet delegates are expected to acquire in the United States. In general, the United States is well ahead in most fields. Nevertheless, several delegations appeared to have learned some things which may be put to good use at home.

Some Suggestions for Advance Briefing

The Embassy is highly appreciative of the excellent job which the Department has generally done in briefing American delegations before their departure for the Soviet Union. In addition, the Embassy is well aware of the difficulties which confront the Department in this effort. All too often, it has proved almost impossible to assemble the delegates beforehand in Washington or New York in time to allow for even a short [Page 16] briefing, to say nothing of the more comprehensive one which would be optimally desirable. What follows, therefore, is the drafting officer’s prescription for a utopian approach, made in full consciousness of the obstacles thereto.

A comprehensive advance briefing on the Soviet scene, and particularly on information in the delegations’ general field, such as the organization of industry or agriculture, as appropriate, is essential in order to permit the delegates to make the most of their visit and avoid wasting questions on subjects easily covered at home. Some delegates could have been more effective had they known in advance, for example, the difference between a collective and state farm. Members of one delegation, which was given a hasty briefing on the day before its departure from the United States, urged that future delegations, or at least those members residing in the Eastern part of the country, be brought to Washington for briefing two to four weeks in advance of their departure. The suggestion has been made that this briefing include a definition of the broader political purposes of the exchange. Some members, for example, have single-mindedly devoted themselves to what turned out to be the hopeless task of acquiring new information in specialized fields in which the Soviets were far behind. They might have been more effective had they been aware of the broader objectives of their visit.

Experience so far has shown that it is wise to make the delegations’ wishes with regard to the itinerary and places to be visited clear to the Soviets and to reach an agreement (in writing, if possible) on the itinerary as soon as possible after arrival. In general, the Soviets have used evasive and deceptive tactics in the initial negotiations, seeking to restrict the delegations’ movement without refusing their requests outrightly. The Soviet effort usually is directed toward keeping the delegations on the “tourist circuit.” Since the Soviets are well aware of the prospect of reciprocal treatment in the United States, however, careful preparation of requests and polite but persistent pursuit of them have proved profitable. Usually, the Soviets can be persuaded to make substantial concessions. In addition, they have been responsive to requests for more time for professional discussions and visits, and less for banquets and merrymaking. Some museums and exhibits have also been successfully avoided.

If a delegation knows in advance that it is to be a guest of some Soviet host organization, which will pay all expenses, there is, of course, no point at all in the purchase by delegates from Intourist of any coupon booklets for meals and hotel accommodations, since the delegates’ incidental expenses can be paid for in cash. However, even in the case of delegations which are to travel at their own expense, it is distinctly preferable, if this can be arranged, for delegates also not to buy Intourist coupon booklets unless, for some reason, the Soviet Embassy insists on the [Page 17] purchase of such booklets before agreeing to issue visas. (This is the general practice with regard to tourists, but should not apply to any sort of delegation.) This reason for this advice is that the total cost of rooms and meals paid for in cash is generally less than the $15.50 a day charged for first class Intourist service. Apart from that, luncheons and dinners are frequently provided free of charge by host organizations, thus further reducing the need for coupon books calculated on a three-meal-per-day basis.

Delegations would be well advised to designate one of their number as administrative officer. There is an endless series of petty, but time-consuming, problems of travel, accommodations, etc., which can best be handled if one member of the delegation is authorized to act on the delegation’s behalf.

Many of the delegates have thought of ingenious ways to break the ice at banquets and in talks with Soviet citizens. Clever toasts, of course, are very appropriate and some of the musically inclined delegations have made a favorable impression singing American songs. Photographs of home, family and work, and small gifts, which are not likely to seem condescending, have proved useful in striking up conversations. The Department might also wish to consider lending one or two Polaroid cameras to each delegation, since the presentation of pictures taken on the spot has proved an excellent ice breaker. Chairmen of delegations should be prepared to make statements at the conclusion of visits to industrial establishments or cities, and certainly at the end of the trip, the latter statement sometimes having been prepared in advance in writing. Delegates should be cautioned beforehand, however, as regards toasts, that overly effusive remarks and rhetoric about Soviet-American friendship should be avoided when these exceed expressions of gratitude for actual courtesies and kindnesses, since the Soviets can and do exploit or distort such words.

Some Suggestions for the Reception of Soviet Delegations in the US

The Embassy hopes that every effort will be made to insure that the Soviet delegates receive a warm and friendly reception in the United States. While such a reception is necessary in order to achieve the political objectives of the exchange, the fact that the Soviets have done such an exemplary job in the particular aspect of hospitality here makes it all the more imperative. It is, of course, advisable that they be given an opportunity to form as favorable an impression of American life as possible and to see the advantages of the American political system. Since Soviet entertaining of foreigners is confined to public places and offices, visits to private American homes would be particularly useful, if not mandatory.

[Page 18]

In order to insure satisfactory treatment of American delegations in the USSR, the Embassy recommends that Soviet refusals of American requests for visits to specific places here be fully reciprocated in the United States in comparable ways. Plans for the reception of each delegation should be carefully worked out in advance with one or more members of the corresponding American delegation to the USSR. Deletions from the Soviet itinerary which hurt and which correspond to Soviet refusals should be made so that the Soviets learn to expect repercussions in the United States of their treatment of American delegates here. Perhaps they should be told point blank that they cannot visit such and such American cities or institutions because the American delegates were denied an opportunity to see some specified Soviet city or institution. If the Soviets do not receive reciprocal treatment in this regard, the tasks of American delegations here are likely to be further complicated. The foregoing, of course, can apply only where the American visit to the USSR precedes the reciprocal Soviet visit to the US.

In order to achieve the objectives of the exchange, much attention will have to be devoted to the physical arrangements of travel in the United States. Many, if not all, Soviet tour directors have been highly qualified specialists in the delegations’ field of interest and have, moreover, done a conscientious job in providing for their charges’ physical comfort. The Soviet tour directors, however, have not generally had authority to change the itinerary and scheduled visits without consulting Moscow. This has created an unfavorable impression and complicated travel arrangements. Since the Soviet delegates will expect the Americans to follow the Soviet practice of showing only the best, it is recommended that the American tour directors have some reasonable discretion to visit suitable unscheduled points in the general area which a delegation may suddenly request (provided this avoids giving the Soviets a major unreciprocal advantage). This should create a good impression from a political point of view and reduce the suspicion that the itinerary includes only “show places.”

The Soviet authorities have usually provided competent interpreters, including those capable of interpreting highly scientific discussions. When an interpreter has been found inadequate, the Soviets have generally found a satisfactory substitute. The importance of providing groups from the USSR with competent interpreters cannot be over-emphasized, and it is sometimes justifiable and useful for Soviet delegations to bring their own interpreters.

For the Chargé d’Affaires a.i.:

David E. Mark
First Secretary of Embassy
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 511.61/9–458. Limited Official Use. Drafted by S.C. Blasier.
  2. Despatch 57 is ibid., 032/7–2858; despatch 68 is ibid., 032/7–3158; despatch 79 is ibid., 511.613/8–758.