21. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Discussion of U.S.-Soviet Relations


  • Mikhail A. Menshikov, Soviet Ambassador
  • Mr. Levchenko, Second Secretary, Soviet Embassy
  • The Secretary
  • Mr. McSweeney, Director,SOV

The Ambassador opened the conversation by extending congratulations to the Secretary and expressing the hope that with the installation [Page 55] of the new Administration the American Government and people could now find the means of improving relations between the two countries—the first steps taken by the new Administration give the Soviets and all other peoples hope that there can be concerted action between the two countries.

The Secretary said he looked forward to working with Mr. Menshikov toward improvement of relations, a matter of enormous mutual interest. He suggested it would be valuable to find means of progress on lesser but tangible questions thus providing a proper framework for consideration of more difficult questions. For example, there are the questions of an air transport agreement, establishment of consulates at Leningrad and New York, and expansion of the exchange program. While these are not the most important questions they can build a basis for mutual understanding and also assist in developing public understanding. The Secretary said he wanted to comment on the timing of the nuclear test ban negotiations—the date suggested by the United States does not constitute delay but rather the minimum time for a new Administration to review and prepare. He asked if the Ambassador had any knowledge of the Soviet Governmentʼs reaction to the suggested date of March 21.

The Ambassador said he had no word, noting that the United States approach had been made by Ambassador Thompson. He said he would remind his Government that a reply is expected.

The Secretary noted that Ambassador Thompson is returning from Moscow on consultation, and suggested that he might bring the Soviet Governmentʼs answer with him. The Secretary said Ambassador Thompson is not returning with a collection of problems acquired in Moscow but rather to consult with the new Administration in order to go back better prepared for discussion on a whole range of questions. The Secretary expressed his and the Presidentʼs utmost confidence in Ambassador Thompson.

Ambassador Menshikov said that the Secretary had not mentioned in his early remarks normalization of trade, which was one thing that the Ambassador thought would help greatly, not so much from the economic standpoint as from the standpoint of creation of a better climate. The Secretary said that the items he mentioned, i.e., air transport and consequent increased travel, would be a part of normalization of trade and referred to the fact that there are many more American tourists in the Soviet Union than Soviet tourists in the United States. Ambassador Menshikov said the Soviets buy more U.S. goods. He said that it is not Soviet policy to earn dollars—rather they are glad to spend these dollars in the United States. Soviet tourism in the U.S., he said, is increasing and there have been 1,000 this year. The Secretary mentioned the admiration of a colleague of his of the roadside tourist camps he encountered on a drive [Page 56] from Leningrad to the Crimea. The Ambassador said that the President of Intourist had recently said that Soviet capacity to handle tourists would be increased by 1965 by 200,000 per year. He then reverted to the question of trade normalization and problems created by U.S. restrictions. He noted that the U.S. was the only big country with which theUSSR does not have a trade agreement with most favored nation provisions. Most favored nation treatment, he said, is a sign of normalcy. The Secretary mentioned that a major element restricting trade can be the patent and copyright situation in countries with different policies. The Ambassador said that commercial contracts can take care of this situation, noting his own trade experience for many years with the Soviet Government. He said that the present trade level of 40-50 million dollars between the U.S. and the USSR is only about a tenth of what it was in 1930. He said the Soviet Government does not wish to purchase military or strategic items—indeed, he said, they could offer such items to the U.S.

Ambassador Menshikov then inquired whether the Secretary had any ideas or proposals regarding the possibility of discussion of some of the things that he had discussed earlier with the Secretary and Ambassador Bruce.1 He disclaimed that he was in any way attempting to push the administration but only wondered when, how, and where discussion of particular items could take place. He mentioned as subjects of this sort disarmament, a peaceful German settlement including West Berlin, and improvement of relations between the two countries.

The Secretary said that with regard to the last general question it is useful to find specific points on which progress can be made—big questions are made up of many little questions. Normal diplomatic means should be used to find points capable of resolution. He said that we feel disarmament to be of the utmost importance, mentioning that Mr. McCloy, who has been charged with this responsibility, is undertaking intensive work in close collaboration with the Secretary. Our priority attention first goes to the question of nuclear testing where we must have a little time for review. He suggested it might be useful at an appropriate time for Ambassador Menshikov and Mr. McCloy to discuss these matters. The disarmament question as a whole is more comprehensive and complex and probably would require a little more time than review of the testing question. He noted that it is difficult to insulate or isolate disarmament from the general situation regarding our relations. The Ambassador said that a disarmament settlement would settle most other things as well.

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Ambassador Menshikov noted that the U.S. aide-memoire2 included the two points of an air transport agreement and consulates. The Secretary had also mentioned widening the scope of the exchanges. He, the Ambassador, had added the subject of trade which he considers important. Finally, the President had mentioned cooperation in the scientific field.3 The Ambassador asked if the Secretary had any idea how and when these questions might be discussed. The Secretary said he hoped to be able to work out something after Ambassador Thompson arrives. After discussion with him the U.S. might be in a position to make some suggestions.

The Secretary then asked Ambassador Menshikov, unofficially, if he thought there was any point of raising the question of lessening travel restrictions, which are now anomalous. Ambassador Menshikov said he personally favored such relaxation and said that on several occasions in the past his Government had tried to approach this matter but each time something happened in the field of foreign relations which prevented development. He said that a year ago when preparations were being made for the visit of President Eisenhower all kinds of things were developing in this direction and everyone was hopeful that steps forward, including this particular problem, could be taken. They now again hope for a radical improvement of the situation. He suggested that progress in other fields might have a good result in the field of travel restrictions. He said the restrictions were left over from the last war and noted that they applied to all foreigners, not just Americans. The Secretary said he fully understood that security of certain installations would have to be retained both in this country and the USSR. Close-in protection could be provided while the rest of the country could be open.

The Secretary expressed the hope that quiet employment of normal diplomatic channels could give both sides a better approach to larger questions. The Ambassador said that he felt an exchange of views on all questions was useful either in Washington or Moscow or both places simultaneously. He noted that Mr. Bowles yesterday had expressed the hope that in the future the two countries could go into all international forums with joint views.4 The Secretary said it is important to guarantee the success of important debates in international forums since the effect of failure is serious. The Ambassador said this was indeed the Soviet approach, i.e., through discussion in diplomatic channels to establish a [Page 58] common basic point of view. The Secretary said that the significance of a new Administration in Washington is that it offers an opportunity to both sides to review the situation. Such review can open the way to a common approach at least in some questions. The Secretary said that the Administration has no illusions that the problems involved are simple. The Ambassador said that with a common desire the two countries could do many things. The Secretary suggested that we need also to find a common vocabulary—we need to examine this question in a relaxed fashion. The Ambassador agreed that words have different meanings in our two societies. This is natural, he said, given the difference of our ideologies. Neither one of us will persuade the other, he said, but we can co-exist. The Secretary agreed that the important questions between the countries are not ideological—but we must be careful in the field of action and be sure we understand each other in this regard. The Ambassador said that the Soviet Union is all in favor of a quiet purposeful approach involving reasonable compromises. But this must be on an equal basis and there must be no attempt to achieve any one-sided settlement.

As the Ambassador left, the Secretary said he hoped he would see the Ambassador and Mrs. Menshikov at the Presidentʼs reception on the 8th.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/2-361. Confidential. Drafted by McSweeney and approved in S on February 12. A copy of Kohlerʼs briefing memorandum to Rusk, February 3, is ibid., 601.6111/2-361.
  2. See Document 2; the conversation with Rusk has not been further identified.
  3. See Document 12.
  4. For text of the State of the Union address, January 30, during which the President made this suggestion, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 19-28.
  5. A 3-page memorandum of Menshikovʼs conversation with Bowles on February 2, which covered the same topics as his conversation with Rusk, is in Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/2-261. Kohlerʼs briefing memorandum for this meeting is ibid., 601.6111/2-161.