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

No. 474


  • Cultural Exchanges Involving Members of Congress

During my recent consultation in the Department when discussing the possible inclusion of exchanges between the Congress and the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet I was informed that the Congress was opposed to any exchange of delegations. I was therefore somewhat surprised to receive a copy of a letter from Assistant Secretary Hays to the Vice President dated October 3, 19611 requesting the opinion of the Vice President on this problem. The Assistant Secretaryʼs letter itself expressed the Departmentʼs opposition to any formal exchange.

As the Department is aware, the Soviet authorities went out of their way to treat Senator Javits as a tourist and to refuse him interviews with higher Soviet officials connected with foreign trade, which was the specific sphere in which he was interested.2 Congressional visits have always been a problem for the Embassy. While according to the Departmentʼs instructions the Embassy is absolved from making arrangements for interviews of congressmen visiting the Soviet Union as tourists, in practice it is clearly impracticable for the Embassy to refuse its assistance to such congressional visitors. While these have not been numerous in the past year, I believe it can be anticipated that such visits will be more numerous in the future. I am thoroughly in agreement with the Department in insisting upon control over the actual arrangements for visits from members of the Supreme Soviet remaining in the hands of the Department. I believe that Senator Javits had considerable success in explaining to the Soviet officials concerned, in particular Mr. Zhukov of the State Committee for Cultural Relations With Foreign Countries, that the Congress does not have the function nor the facilities to handle the details of such visits. On the other hand I believe it would be to the interest of both the Department and the Embassy if some better system of handling [Page 340] congressional visits could be arranged. While I do not wish to push unduly my point of view as we can of course live with the present system, I believe Senator Javitsʼ experience justifies a re-examination of this question. In my opinion an official exchange of delegations between the Congress and the Supreme Soviet would be to the advantage of the United States. It is to our interest to encourage visits from Soviet officials who play an important role in their country. Although the Supreme Soviet is gradually growing somewhat in importance it is of course basically a rubber-stamp organization, the chief purpose of which is to enable the Soviet leadership to advocate its current policies to a cross section of its own officials. Nevertheless the members of the Supreme Soviet do play an important role in their own communities and are people who could be influenced by a visit to the United States. I am not impressed by the argument that a formal exchange of visits would tend to equate the undemocratic Supreme Soviet with the freely-elected Congress, since the character of the two organizations appears already to be widely known.

Even if a formal exchange of delegations is not agreed to by the Department, I believe it would be useful if the Congress could be persuaded to make some arrangements to coordinate visits of congressmen to the U.S.S.R. If this is not done it is quite likely that we will have separate visits from a number of congressmen interested in the same subject, and the Soviet authorities cannot be expected to make satisfactory arrangements for a number of individuals investigating the same field. A large number of requests to the Soviet authorities for assistance in arranging congressional visits in a given field, for example education, could also interfere with arrangements for specialized delegations in such field. Moreover, as matters now stand the Soviet authorities can give preference to congressmen whom they believe will give more favorable publicity to conditions in the Soviet Union rather than to congressmen who are likely to be more critical. If the Congress itself would set up some means of coordination it seems probable that balanced delegations would be formed which would avoid this difficulty.

L E Thompson
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.1161/12-461. Confidential. Drafted by Thompson.
  2. Not found.
  3. Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York had visited the Soviet Union for the last 9 days of November. Documentation on his visit including a memorandum of his conversation with Zhukov, referred to below, is in Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100-JA. Senator Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana also visited the Soviet Union for 7 weeks beginning October 2. For his report on the visit, see U.S. Foreign Policy and Operations; additional documentation on his visit, including memoranda of his conversations with various Soviet officials, is in Department of State, Central File, 033.1100-EL.