223. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Schlesinger) to Secretary of State Rusk0


  • Luncheon with Ambassador Dobrynin

On August 14, Ambassador Dobrynin asked me for lunch at the Soviet Embassy. Following are the high points of an entirely non-memorable conversation.

The Ambassadorʼs chief interest was evidently in American domestic politics. He asked me a number of questions about the prospects of the autumn elections, the strength of conservatism in the Congress, the power of the John Birch Society, etc. In answer I tried to remind him of the ebb and flow of American politics. I told him that phenomena like the John Birch Society were a predictable response to affirmative and purposeful government and said that anyone in the United States in the thirties who had permitted himself to become obsessed with the evidences of surface opposition to Roosevelt would have deceived himself about the main trend of events—that observers must take care not to spend all their time watching the sideshows while the parade marches by outside. He seemed unmoved.
We had some talk about the United Nations. He said that he had no information regarding the rumor that Chairman Khrushchev might be coming to New York in September and gave the impression of slight skepticism about it. He said little about Berlin. When I asked him when Ulbricht was likely to return to East Germany, he said that he thought Ulbricht was taking a much-needed holiday in Sochi.
He raised the question of the Congo and asked why we let Tshombe get away with his divisive and obstructionist policies. He seemed to believe that, if we really wanted to, we could discipline Tshombe and integrate Katanga tomorrow. I tried to explain that ordering small potentates around might sometimes be harder than it looked and instanced Enver Hoxha.1 I also said that, while the society with which he was most familiar could no doubt pursue any policy it wanted so far as domestic reaction was concerned, societies which believed in free discussion had to take some account of internal opinion, and that this might affect, for example, the policy of Great Britain. The exchange was inconclusive.
I then asked him why, if the USSR was so strong and secure, it did not have enough confidence in itself to permit the sale in Moscow kiosks and hotels of western non-Communist newspapers and magazines. He said that it was necessary to forbid the sale of such western publications in Moscow because, if Soviet citizens knew what lies these publications contained, they would be filled with indignation and fury toward the west, and this would make it much harder for the Soviet Government to pursue its policy of peace. He then launched into the question of Soviet anti-semitism. If the Russian people read the stories in the American press about anti-semitism in the Soviet Union, he said, then they would really get mad and the Jews in the Soviet Union would be in genuine danger. When I lightly questioned this line of argument and said that I doubted whether the sale of the London Times or the Manchester Guardian or the New York Times in Moscow could have such a catastrophic impact, especially if the Soviet people were as dedicated to their regime as their leaders insisted, he said that, as a matter of fact, in 1959-60 the Soviet Government had decided to make some adjustments on the import of foreign newspapers and magazines. Then the U-2 incident took place. The consequence, the Ambassador said, was to set back for many years the prospect of permitting the sale of foreign publications in the Soviet Union.
The Ambassador reminisced at considerable length about himself and his entry into the Soviet foreign service. He said that 70 percent of Soviet Ambassadors were, like himself, engineers; and that, so far as he knew, only one Soviet Ambassador was a lawyer. In chatting about Soviet diplomats, he said that the present Soviet Ambassador to Brazil speaks neither Spanish nor Portuguese and is rather unhappy.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.2
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Dobrynin Talks. Confidential. Copies were sent to Bundy, Bohlen, and Tyler.
  2. Chairman of the Albanian Communist Party.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.