10. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State0

1707. Eyes only Secretary. After offering congratulations inauguration President and hope there would be better US-Soviet relations than in past, Khrushchev had Kuznetsov read aide-memoire (text Embassy telegram 1706).1 When Kuznetsov had finished, Khrushchev said he would like to add that Soviets ready release fliers immediately, as soon as appropriate notification received from US that we were in agreement with Soviet position. He said it was still Soviet position that there was intrusion Soviet territorial waters and it was a Soviet right shoot down plane and Soviets would continue such action if further intrusions. If US agrees with Soviet aide-memoire Soviets will release fliers. If not, only logical outcome would be to organize a trial although Soviets recognize this would only lead to further exacerbation situation.

I replied that I appreciate spirit in which proposal made but at pres-ent moment old administration had gone and I as yet had no instructions from new and therefore what I said would have to be on personal basis. Of course I was prepared transmit proposal to Government but at risk seeming ungrateful wanted point out certain considerations. As Chairman knew, our position is that plane did not violate Soviet territory and we prepared submit case to international arbitration in order solve difficult situation. However, this did not change fact that we would like fliers back and I thought I could be sure President Kennedy also would like forget past and make new start, and utilize opportunity change of administration for this purpose. As I understood it however fliers would only be released if we expressed agreement Soviet point of view. Khrushchev thought I had misunderstood and had thought we were supposed to agree with Soviet version of incident. I explained this not case but pointed out there were two problems involved in his proposal. Judging from Presidentʼs statements during campaign there would appear to be little doubt about his intention not approve violations Soviet frontiers by overflights. Aide-memoire however referred to droppingUNGA agenda items, and I assumed that it meant on our side resolutions on [Page 31] Hungary and Tibet. I said he should realize difficult position in which he would put President if he insisted upon making bargain which involved these fliers where we thought our position right and other matters. Khrushchev made clear each side was free to maintain its point of view regarding incident and he simply asked that we not attempt exploit release of fliers against them. He intimated that upon their return they could be made to say things which would exacerbate relations. I said we had once made clear we would not do this but pointed out we had free press and there would doubtless be some publicity. With regard question exploitation Khrushchev said this was reason aide-memoire had referred to my conversation.2 He said they realized we had free press but wished point out their press also free and said if not how could they have published such thing as article referring to eleven missing airmen.3 He grinned and said “you were not slow to pounce on this” and added of course article nothing but carelessly written novel. I pointed out that of course much time had passed since my conversation to which he had referred. He acknowledged this but said frankly they had not wished release these fliers to Eisenhower administration for if they had Nixon would have exploited it during campaign. In order illustrate how I thought matter should be handled I told him of suggestion I had submitted that President make statement about overflights at his January 25 press conference and assume Soviets would release fliers. With great glee he said he had taken action first. He then went on to explain that there was no link between question of fliers and dropping agenda items. He said offer to release fliers was not subject to conditions and that aide-memoire would not be published. I said it was necessary to be clear what was expected of US. Was I to understand that if President either informed them or said publicly that he had no intention to send planes across their frontier, fliers would be released? Khrushchev said that if President were to add to such statement regarding overflights that US wanted good relations not only with Soviets but with all governments, this would be favorably received by them.

I said that at time fliers were released this would be news and it would be necessary to understand clearly what would be said to press. Khrushchev suggested we work out problem with Soviet Foreign Minister in order that we both say same thing. Unclear whether this would be joint statement or agreed position.

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On agenda items he said they did not wish to start off Assembly discussions by arguing cold war matters with Stevenson. They had their own cold war agenda items but such discussion would spoil relations.

Comment: Recommend we reply accepting Soviet proposal re fliers and state that UN agenda items will be subject further discussion. Somewhat difficult define precisely what Soviet proposal is but I understand two factors involved. (1) We accept in some form their interpretation new Presidentʼs position re overflights; (2) we give at least oral assurance to endeavor not exploit release of men against them. Since President will probably have to take public position on overflight policy, it might be handled at his press conference where distinction between U-2 and RB-47 can be made clear. Anticipate difficulty reaching agreed position with Foreign Office although think they clearly understand that each side will maintain its position on facts RB-47 incident.

Other topics in separate telegrams.4

I am telling press here only that interview concerned Soviet-American relations.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 761.5411/1-2161. Secret; Priority. On January 20 Thompson reported that Khrushchev wanted to see him the following day and asked for guidance. (Telegram 1688 from Moscow; ibid., 123 Thompson) In its reply the same day the Department of State said that in view of the timing of the meeting, Khrushchev could not expect the Ambassador to have prepared positions and suggested that Thompson go primarily to listen to what the Chairman had to say. (Telegram 1171 to Moscow; ibid.)
  2. Document 9.
  3. For a report on this conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. X, Part 1, pp. 547549.
  4. Khrushchev is referring to an article in Ogonek, January 15, 1961, which stated that 11 of the crew of a U.S. C-130, shot down over Soviet Armenia on September 2, 1958, were captured near Yerevan.
  5. In telegram 1708, January 21, Thompson reported briefly on the Congo and Laos. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/1-2161) In telegram 1709 Thompson reported that he had asked Khrushchev whether he had read the Presidentʼs inaugural address. The Chairman replied that he had and would have the Soviet papers publish the full text, since he had seen several constructive things in it. (Ibid., 711.11-KE/1-2161)