28. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Relations with the Soviet Union


  • Sir Harold Caccia, British Ambassador
  • Lord Hood, Minister-Counselor, British Embassy
  • Mr. D.A. Greenhill, Counselor, British Embassy
  • Mr. T. Brimelow, Counselor, British Embassy
  • Mr. C.D. Wiggin, First Secretary, British Embassy
  • Ambassador-at-Large Averell Harriman
  • Ambassador David K.E. Bruce
  • Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson
  • Mr. Charles E. Bohlen, Special Assistant to the Secretary
  • Mr. Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary, EUR
  • Mr. Richard H. Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary, EUR
  • Mr. John M. McSweeney, Director, SOV
  • Mr. William C. Burdett, Director, BNA
  • Mr. John A. Armitage, SOV

Sir Harold opened the meeting with a query regarding the significance of theTASS statement,1 just received, attacking the UN Secretary General, calling for UN withdrawal from the Congo, and promising Soviet aid to Gizenga.2 Mr. Kohler remarked that this would certainly [Page 69] change the tactical picture in New York. Reference was made to previous Soviet behavior regarding former SYG Trygve Lie. Mr. Kohler said that in that period the Soviets had addressed their communications to the Secretariat. Sir Harold asked if the sharpness and nature of the TASS statement made it possible for us to gain anything from this “ill wind.” Mr. Kohler suggested any SC resolution on the Congo would now automatically be subjected to Soviet veto.

With regard to the subject of the present meeting, Mr. Kohler noted that there was little likelihood of any real difference regarding the subject, that we had prepared a brief paper3 which stopped short of conclusions and suggested that the meeting might usefully hear from Ambassador Thompson.

Ambassador Thompson opened by referring to Khrushchevʼs conversations with German Ambassador Kroll and the Icelandic Ambassador in which Khrushchev had said that the Soviets could not wait on the Berlin situation until after German elections. Mikoyan and Kozlov had been making equivocating noises but Khrushchev was sounding tough. Ambassador Thompson considered that a lot would depend on the international setting. If the testing talks go well and there is movement elsewhere, if the Soviets conclude that there is an effort to solve some of our problems, Khrushchev would probably go along some distance. He might agree to some type of procedural start before the elections which continued after the elections were held. On the other hand, if we seem to have locked horns at all junctures, Khrushchev would almost certainly proceed with a separate treaty with the GDR. He has somewhat of a commitment to get along with the German problem and would only withhold pressure if he can show that his policy is “getting somewhere” elsewhere.

Sir Harold said that the Soviets seemed to have designated three areas in which they wanted to get somewhere: reform of the UN, disarmament and Germany. It appears they have thrown their hat in the ring on the UN and taken a hard stand on reforming the UN completely.

Ambassador Thompson said he viewed the Soviet drive on the UN as a long-range project. Khrushchev does not seem sure how he can do it and had even vacillated some in his attitude toward the Secretary General. When Lord Hood asked if he understood that the drive on the UN was not in the same order of priority as the other two questions, Ambassador Thompson answered that was his view. Sir Harold observed that Khrushchev has already firmly joined the issue on the UN and asked if he could abandon this firm position. Ambassador Thompson said it was possible that he could, that in his opinion Khrushchev would not try to force all his proposals through the UN this year.

[Page 70]

Ambassador Harriman asked how seriously Khrushchev would take the Lumumba4 affair. Ambassador Thompson said Khrushchev had little concern for Lumumba personally, that he had told Ambassador Thompson that he was sorry for him as a person when he was in prison but that his imprisonment actually served Soviet interests. Khrushchevʼs personal commitment is deepest of all regarding Berlin and the pressure is greatest on him here.

Sir Harold asked what other subjects than Berlin could we hope to get any movement on. Ambassador Thompson said there were divergent reports regarding Soviet intentions at the testing talks, but that he was inclined to believe that they were prepared to make substantive concessions and to get an agreement. However, it was possible that the ChiComs may have cooled them off on the testing agreement or that the Soviets may have taken the measure of the cost of the requisite inspection and concluded that it was too great.

Sir Harold observed that the Chinese Ambassador in Moscow had told British Ambassador Roberts that the ChiComs hoped a testing agreement would be reached so that they would not be forced to go ahead with the production of costly nuclear weapons.

Ambassador Thompson said the Pugwash meeting in Moscow had been interesting.5 He thought that it has encouraged the Soviets to think now that we are more serious about disarmament than they had thought before. The talks had revealed how deeply we had been exploring the problems of arms control.

Sir Harold asked for U.S. thoughts on how to spin things along and achieve a delay on Berlin. Lord Hood observed that he and Mr. Kohler had concluded the other day that we could get nothing better than a status quo and that no initiative on our part in Germany or Berlin was therefore worthwhile. Sir Harold said he understood that part of our answer was to have a serious try at achieving a testing agreement and perhaps go slow at the UN. The latter, he remarked, had now become much more difficult.

Mr. Kohler saw no good reason for us actively to seek a Berlin-Germany settlement. He said we can live with the status quo and even in NATO discussions it had been agreed that there were real dangers in a summit meeting on the single subject of Berlin. The question was what field offered the best chances of bringing about some relaxation of tension without facing a show-down on an issue like Berlin.

[Page 71]

Ambassador Thompson offered his personal view that it was necessary to have some sort of program regarding Germany and Berlin. We must take it for granted that the Soviets will raise the subject at some time or other and we must be ready to talk about it. There was some danger that things such as Krollʼs talk with Khrushchev might lead the Soviets to believe that after the German elections they can expect to gain substantial Western concessions. However, Kroll had never given any idea of what would be changed in the German position by the elections.

Sir Harold asked what were they seeking from us and noted that this meant essentially what do the Germans have to offer? He referred to the obvious field of securing the eastern frontiers of the GDR. Ambassador Thompson remarked that it might be helpful if the Germans would proceed to establish more extensive relations with the Poles, and possibly the Czechs.

Mr. Bohlen said that there was some danger in this position of leaving Berlin on ice until after the election. The danger was that this would tend to store up a powerful head of steam for a big show-down. Ambassador Dowling would be coming back shortly and perhaps we can find out something regarding the Germansʼ thinking on discussions with the Soviets after elections. There might be something in German preparedness to recognize the Oder-Neisse line and this, of course, very closely affected German elections.

Ambassador Thompson remarked that Ambassador Kroll held some dangerous ideas, for example, regarding the possibility of a meeting to draw up the terms of a peace treaty. Ambassador Kroll might be thinking of this as a stalling tactic but it would obviously have the effect of deceiving and confusing the public in Western countries.

Sir Harold asked if there had been any private communications from the Germans to the Russians. Ambassador Thompson said that, if so, it would have been by Kroll personally. Kroll seems to aspire to be the man that changed the course of post-war history.

Mr. Kohler asked if the Oder-Neisse line is as important to the Russians as to the Poles. Ambassador Thompson thought yes. It was needed to jell the situation in Eastern Europe, and that objective was high on the Soviet list. If the western Polish borders were changed in the slightest, the Soviets felt the Poles would look for compensating changes in the East. Lord Hood asked if they were more interested in this than in getting us out of Berlin. Ambassador Thompson said yes, but that the East Germans were, of course, more interested in Berlin. However, the Soviets could hold the East Germans in line if they wished to.

Mr. Kohler referred to the correspondence in late 1957 and early 1958 regarding the lists of topics that the West and the Soviet Union might discuss at a meeting. He asked whether there were any possibilities along this line or whether the Soviets were pressing for a quick summit [Page 72] meeting. Ambassador Thompson said that the Soviets had been pressing us on Berlin and would continue to do so. Their line is that if we do not like their proposals, what do we suggest? Mr. Kohler observed that our previous proposals had lasted only about 10 minutes (in 1959).

Lord Hood asked if the Germans would have to be in on any discussions. Ambassador Thompson said that apparently Ulbricht6 had supported Khrushchev strongly at the November CP meeting but that we donʼt know whether Khrushchev paid any price for this support. There seemed some evidence that the Russians were not particularly happy with Ulbricht right now.

Sir Harold remarked that Lord Home had followed the advice of the British Ambassador in Moscow and referred to the harsh essence of the statement of the Communist parties and Khrushchevʼs January 6 speech. Izvestiya had reacted sharply, asking if he were the minister of the cold war.

Mr. Kohler observed that we had circulated these documents to our missions, that the Secretary and the President had both called public attention to them and their significance and that we were working on the possibility of preparing an annotated edition of the documents.

Sir Harold wondered whether the sharp Soviet response to Lord Home were not meant for the U.S. as well as the British. He noted our problem of not fooling the public while we were stringing the Russians along. How we would do the stringing along was not clear except for the field of testing. The prospect for anything in disarmament would take much longer. Should Khrushchev come to the UN, the TASS release today would make it extremely hard to imagine the UN proceeding in a restrained manner.

Ambassador Thompson said that there was the possibility of a settlement in Laos which Khrushchev could regard as some achievement. It was not clear how the Soviets were going to play the situation. They seemed disposed to let the Administration have some time to organize its approach but any successes tempted them to continue a hard line. It was hard for them to “renounce any opportunities.”

Sir Harold referred to Laos, the Congo and Cuba as three areas of progress from the Soviet point of view. Ambassador Thompson said Khrushchev may find that he does not want to push too fast toward an accommodation.

Mr. Kohler said it was doubtful that anything in the bilateral field such as exchanges would restrain the Soviets on the international front. He asked whether a series of meetings per se which would not be negotiations would have any virtue. For example, would the prospect or actuality [Page 73] of a meeting with the President deter them? Ambassador Thompson said from Khrushchevʼs personal point of view he would, of course, see that there were gains involved and it could have great importance to him. Mr. Kohler asked whether this would restrain him from raising concrete issues. Ambassador Thompson replied that Khrushchev would raise Berlin at any meeting.

Sir Harold said that it would not be easy for Khrushchev to come to the UNGA now. Mr. Bohlen said that New York was a bad place for a possible meeting between the President and Khrushchev. Given the nature of the issues before the UN and the chance to use the propaganda forum furnished by the UN rostrum, Khrushchev would be sure to employ it and would have to put on his Bolshevik hat in doing so.

Ambassador Thompson remarked that Khrushchev may come any way. If so, it would be better if he came at the end of the session. Sir Harold said that the U.K. Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Dean, reported some sentiment in New York for a quiet end to the current UNGA session but Sir Harold noted that this would probably mean a later special session on disarmament. Mr. Bohlen said that the Soviet proposal for the special disarmament session had never been withdrawn but had not been recently pushed.

Ambassador Thompson reported that Kosygin (Soviet First Deputy Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers) had made a point of stressing that the Soviet disarmament moves in theUN should not be dismissed as propaganda, that they were part of the serious Soviet approach to the problem. Ambassador Thompson said that this meant that they viewed their UN operations as an attempt to force us into disarmament negotiations as part of their effort to overcome what they describe as the barriers interposed by the “Pentagon” and “Wall Street” to disarmament negotiations. Mr. Bohlen added that this was true even though the current exercise itself was pure propaganda.

Sir Harold asked whether from the U.S. point of view it was easier to foresee a meeting with Khrushchev if he was brought into the U.S. by other means than a special invitation to him. Mr. Kohler asked whether it was excluded that the Soviets would issue an invitation to the President. Ambassador Thompson said it was not excluded but not likely. Mr. Bohlen said the Soviets would fear a rebuff; Mr. Kohler noted that there would undoubtedly be some feelers put out first. Ambassador Thompson said the Soviets would want to know where the U.S. stood regarding current issues, that they would have to know this before they could determine what type treatment they should give the President during a visit. He believed that any invitation in the immediate future was almost excluded.

Sir Harold stated that another awkward thing about a new UN session would be facing the Chinese representation issue again. Mr. Bohlen [Page 74] said that the moratorium issue had been disposed of for this session but that the representation issue could still crop up in another form.

Ambassador Thompson considered that the Soviets were likely to start pushing for a summit meeting, even though they might think we are now more seriously approaching the disarmament question. The Soviets would want to gain credit for renewal of negotiations.

Mr. Bohlen said that he might put a little less emphasis on the kudos which the Soviets anticipate from a summit meeting per se. If their desire for such a meeting were in fact deeper than he thought, it might be useful to get word to Khrushchev that he could not expect to get such a meeting if current Soviet conduct was continued.

It was generally agreed that the West should not be hastened into a meeting.

Mr. Kohler reverted to the previous remarks that it might be better for the U.S. to take the initiative rather than being forced into a meeting. He added that this would, of course, involve other allies. Mr. Thompson said that it could be very dangerous if we did not know where we wanted to go on the Berlin question. We would have to take a look at this problem with Ambassador Dowling. One maneuver might be procedural, such as convening a Foreign Ministers meeting not long before the German elections which could carry over until after the elections. This could serve as a buffer to Soviet moves. So far the Germans have not even let us know what they themselves have in mind.

Mr. Bohlen read the TASS item regarding the Congo and the Secretary General and Sir Harold observed that there was little evidence of restraint in it.

Ambassador Harriman said that from our point of view it might be better than a cool and detached statement. Mr. Kohler said even this statement doesnʼt exclude the possibility of Khrushchev coming to the UN and might even serve as a basis for coming.

Ambassador Harriman asked whether the Soviet statement meant that the Soviet Union representative would not communicate with Hammarskjold and not attend meetings at which he was present. Lord Hood and Mr. Kohler agreed that he probably would not communicate with Hammarskjold but would attend meetings at which he was present without addressing him.

Mr. Kohler said this was illustrative of the indeterminate stage our relations were now in, that the Department would want to consult further with Ambassador Thompson, particularly in preparation for the next round of talks with the British.

Mr. Bohlen said Khrushchev must realize he cannot get the votes he needs to remove the Secretary General unless he thinks that great emotions have been stirred by Lumumbaʼs death. Mr. Kohler added that the Soviets had indicated they got all they expected on the first round. Mr. Bohlen [Page 75] opined that they might ask for a special session to consider what they would describe as a crime against humanity.

Sir Harold attempted to sum up the discussion. We were agreed that it was useful to spin things along and that our actions in the testing negotiations and our efforts to achieve a settlement in Laos were part of the process. He asked whether it might not help to riposte in some manner. Could we not come back in the UN; might we not poll the delegations informally to see what might be done in the nature of a confidence vote for the Secretary General? Mr. Bohlen said the UNGA was not in session; could we call a session in order to put the brakes on Khrushchev? Ambassador Thompson said that we must find a way of saying convincingly that the UN cannot run away from its responsibilities in the Congo.

Sir Harold asked if there was any possibility of a response to the Venus shot. He referred to the Western actions reaffirming their unity after the Sputnik and asked if there was any way we could show Khrushchev we were doing something. Ambassador Thompson expressed his personal reservations regarding the advisability of rushing into some action in the scientific field. He had felt that we should see how the situation was developing before making more specific the Presidentʼs suggestions regarding cooperative scientific endeavors and now we had probably better look still closer. Sir Harold said that it was sometimes possible in the wake of startling actions by the Soviets to do politically what ordinarily would be unthinkable.

Mr. Brimelow asked if the toughness of the TASS statement did not make summitry itself less thinkable. Ambassador Harriman asked for Sir Haroldʼs first reaction on how we could meet the probable Soviet moves in the UN. Sir Harold said we should do something to show him that he does not have a majority behind him.

Ambassador Harriman said that Soviet support of Gizenga was now at least out in the open but that this meant that they would be unwilling to work with the Congolese government.

Sir Harold adverted to Laos and said the British thought they would have had an answer to their proposal last week but they had not yet received one.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/2-1461. Secret. Drafted by Armitage and initialed by Kohler.
  2. For text of this February 14 statement, see U.N. doc. S/4704; an extract containing five Soviet demands is in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 765-766.
  3. Antoine Gizenga, Acting Prime Minister of the Congo.
  4. This paper has not been identified further.
  5. Patrice Lumumba, former Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, was killed on January 17.
  6. Reference is to the Conference on War in the Nuclear Age, held November-December 1960 in Moscow.
  7. Walter Ulbricht, Chairman of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.