360. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • East-West Relations; the Gromyko Talks


  • French
    • Foreign Minister Couve de Murville
    • Ambassador Alphand
    • M. Charles Lucet, Director of Political Affairs, Foreign Ministry
    • M. Pierre Pelen, French Emb.
  • U.S.
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Bohlen
    • Mr. William R. Tyler
    • Mr. Johannes V. Imhof, WE

East-West Relations

The Secretary said that it was important not to have any illusions about the current status of East-West relations. It was premature to speak of a détente. There have been two concrete developments: a hot line between Moscow and Washington, reserved for emergencies, has been established as a result of the Cuba crisis when normal communications between the two governments could no longer keep in step with developments. This line has not been used as yet. Secondly, a limited test ban agreement has been concluded.

On concrete problems, there has been no sign of a real detente. With regard to Laos, Gromyko had said that the Soviets remained committed [Page 780] to the Geneva accords and that things would be much worse if they werenʼt. Nevertheless, the situation was far from good. Polish members of the ICC remain uncooperative and the Viet Minh presence in Laos continues.

On Vietnam, there was a complete impasse.

With regard to Cuba, the Soviets were telling us that there were no longer any Soviet operational military units there and that only technicians and training personnel were left. We have indications that the Soviets have indeed removed four battalions but they continue to man anti-aircraft installations and are maintaining some 7,000 military personnel. Castro continues to interfere with other countries in the Western hemisphere. The Soviets have perhaps prevented Cuba from erupting, but Soviet military presence and Soviet interferences in the Western hemisphere remain non-negotiable issues. Continuing on Cuba, the Secretary said that we understood there were two main schools of thought in Cuba: a pro-Soviet and a pro-Chinese orientation. Perhaps there was also some Titoist sentiment but we had been unable to discern any movement in favor of reconciliation with the West. The Secretary expressed his appreciation for previous reports received from the French Embassy in Havana and said he hoped that we would continue to receive these reports. Couve indicated we would.

On Berlin, there were also no new developments. If the Soviets gave full assurances on accession and concentrated on East Germany, some pressure on us from neutrals might develop. As yet, there were no indications that the Soviets would move in this direction but the possibility remained that they might adopt such a course. Gromyko had described the situation as “important and acute”.

With regard to Eastern Europe, we had noticed a slight improvement. No Americans were imprisoned any longer in Czechoslovakia. Some progress had been made in negotiations on the settlement of old financial claims. The Rumanian Foreign Minister had stated that he was interested in improving relations with the West. None of these developments were in any sense conclusive.

Gromyko Talks

Turning to the recent discussions with Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko1 the Secretary said that Gromyko had not taken the initiative in mentioning the non-aggression pact. It was U Thant2 who had done so. We considered the NAP a non-starter because the Soviets had indicated that they considered it an item per se and refused to link it with an improvement [Page 781] in the Berlin situation. Moreover, there was a great deal of skepticism in this country regarding the meaning of an NAP. Such a pact could come at the end of a settlement of issues but not at the outset.

The Secretary said the Soviets had shown interest in a non-dissemination agreement and had taken the initiative in bringing this up. The Soviets seemed to desire that the four existing nuclear powers should remain the only ones. On the other hand, the Soviets had taken the position that the Multilateral Force would be incompatible with a non-dissemination agreement. Soviet opposition to the Multilateral Force may be based on their apprehension at seeing the resources of Europe mobilized along with ours in the nuclear field. On the other hand, Soviet opposition to the Multilateral Force could be based on concern with regard to Germany. If this were the case, the Soviets might take a different view once the MLF comes into being and once they have a chance to look at it in detail.

The Secretary reminded M. Couve de Murville that he had once said that it would be an important point if the Soviets agreed on observation posts. Gromyko had discussed observation posts but had linked them to the concept of a denuclearized zone and to troop reductions.

The Secretary said that the Soviets had shown no interest in agreed destruction of weapons (B-47ʼs and Badgers). We were interested in such an agreement because we would like to prevent or at least limit the introduction of these weapons in the Near East and countries like Indonesia.

The Soviets reiterated their proposal for reduction in military budgets but we do not see any basis for a meaningful comparison between military budgets. For example, our soldiers receive a base pay of $120, far in excess of what a Soviet soldier receives.

With regard to disarmament, the Secretary said that Gromyko was rather gloomy, saw little prospect in the Geneva conference, and tended to blame us for lack of progress. The Secretary said he had taken Gromyko up on this and had told him that the U.S. defense increment since the last World War had increased by $500 billion as a result of Soviet actions. Gromyko had not contested this point. In general, the Soviets had studiously abstained from any kind of ideological discussion and had adopted instead a practical attitude. The only exception was that Gromyko had launched into an attack against the West German regime and had claimed that our policy was being entrapped by West Germany. The Secretary said he had made it plain to Gromyko that our interest in the German problem and in Berlin was based on our own security.

Lastly, the Secretary mentioned a number of bilateral problems which were being discussed with the Soviets, among them a consular agreement.

The Secretary noted that in June the Soviets had suddenly stopped jammingVOA broadcasts and had made an announcement to this effect. [Page 782] This was a surprising move, probably related to some extent to Soviet-Chinese differences. We were taking advantage of this by broadcasting information on developments often well in advance of Soviet announcements. For example, we had broadcast the Presidentʼs offer for a joint expedition to the moon before the Soviets had announced it. M. Couve de Murville speculated that the Soviets were perhaps using all their jamming facilities against the Chinese.

The Secretary said that we were also interested in setting up a telex communication line between our Embassy in Moscow and our Embassy in Paris.

Furthermore, there was the possibility of a civil air agreement which would permit two weekly flights.

On wheat, there were indications that the Soviets might wish to buy up to 4 million tons from us. The President was now looking into this. There would be certain advantages to such a sale. It would help our food problem, it would help our balance-of-payments problem, and it would seem advantageous to siphon off some of the Soviet foreign exchange in this manner. On the other hand, there might be problems in Europe. M. Couve de Murville interjected that there would be no problem as far as the French were concerned. The Secretary referred to Chancellor Adenauerʼs recent statement on the subject. The Secretary said that the Soviet interest in buying wheat was quite new. During the signing of the test ban agreement in Moscow, Khrushchev had shown no interest in buying consumers goods on a large scale.

M. Couve de Murville said he would like to comment on some of the specific points mentioned by the Secretary, but he would like to approach the problem of East-West relations from a general point of view. Before doing so, however, he wanted to comment briefly on the wheat agreement. From the French point of view, there were no objections whatsoever to wheat sales, which the French considered normal trade practice. France had been selling some wheat to the Chinese Communists and limited amounts of flour to the Soviets. Chancellor Adenauerʼs recent position on wheat sales was new. Until now, he had opposed the sale of strategic goods which could help the Soviet war potential. The Secretary said that we have accepted this view with the result that our trade with theUSSR amounts to $35 million whereas European trade, and especially German trade, with the East is much higher. Couve agreed. He then turned to the general problem of East-West relations.

M. Couve de Murville said there was one fact and one development. There was the Moscow agreement and there were the negotiations that may flow from it.

The Moscow agreement was something specific. It was generally understood that this is a US-USSR agreement which came about because both sides wanted it. The agreement had been signed by a great number [Page 783] of states which had no intention or no capability of developing nuclear forces. The agreement had also been signed by Germany which, in 1954, had voluntarily agreed to limitations going considerably beyond the terms of the Moscow agreement. On the other hand, the treaty had not been signed by Communist China nor by France. For reasons that were well known, France could not sign the treaty.

Couve continued that the Moscow agreement, while not significant from a military point of view, was important politically. The treaty was regarded as a starter which could lead to agreements on other things. Indeed, both sides had agreed to continue the talks and these talks, almost without exception, concerned points on which the Soviets have always been, and continue to remain, adamant. The Secretary said that non-dissemination was an exception. Couve agreed but said that the Soviets continued to oppose theMLF.

M. Couve de Murville said that these talks were making the Germans nervous. For its part, the French Government could see no advantage in these discussions. The French Government feared that the only result of these talks would be to lead the Germans to question their relationship with the West. Couve alluded to the earlier series of talks with the Soviets in the first half of 1962 which the French had also considered useless and dangerous in the sense that they could lead to a deterioration of the political climate in Germany.

Couve de Murville said that France was, of course, no less desirous than the United States in improving relations with the Soviets but felt that this improvement should be sought by different means. He said that the Western attitude toward the Soviets had on the whole been defensive. A true detente could be achieved only if the Soviets refrained from threatening. For example, as soon as the Soviets would make it clear with regard to Berlin that they were no longer threatening access, the elements for a realistic detente would exist.

M. Couve de Murville stressed that there were no substantive but only procedural differences between the U.S. and the French on these talks with the Soviets. He said that the French had never harbored any doubts about the U.S. position and had never assumed that we would concede anything to the Soviets in these talks. The mere fact that these talks were taking place before the elements of a real détente were present could lead, however, to a deterioration of the political climate in Europe.

Commenting on the Secretaryʼs question why the Soviets continued to attack the West German regime, M. Couve de Murville said that he believed the Soviet concern about Germany was quite real. It was the result of the last war when all parts of Eastern Europe and vast regions of the Soviet Union had been occupied by the Germans. M. Couve de Murville said that this Soviet concern with regard to Germany probably also explains Soviet opposition to the MLF. The Secretary said that it was possible [Page 784] that the Soviets believe what we are saying with regard to the MLF but that they think that we are wrong. Couve agreed and reiterated his belief that Soviet concern about Germany was real.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretaryʼs Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. Secret. Drafted by Imhof and approved in S on October 13. Couve de Murville was in the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly session. The source text indicates it is Part 2 of 6. Parts 1 and 4-6 are ibid.; Part 3 is printed in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XV, pp. 587590.
  2. For a report on the conversation on October 2, see ibid., pp. 583584; a summary of the second conversation, October 3, which included Lord Home, is in Department of State, Central Files, POL 38-10.
  3. Secretary General of the United Nations.