4. Record of Telephone Conversation Between President-elect Kennedy and Adlai E. Stevenson0

[Here follows discussion of other matters.]

S: I talked to Rusk and Chester1 several weeks ago urging them to suggest to you or discuss with you sometime what seems to me the most important first thing that this administration has to do—and that is to discover what is in Kʼs mind, if possible. Thereʼs only one way I know of and this would be by direct talks in Moscow without formality by somebody who is not the diplomatic agent but someone who corresponds to Khrushchevʼs concept of power. That is, a political figure rather than a diplomatic one; someone who would go there after the inauguration as your emissary to review the situation and exploit what opportunities there may be. I think it is important to find out what his troubles are—as well as to explore with him ours. I am told one trouble of his may be his health—which we donʼt know anything about.——extremists in the Presidium and China—and what he has to deal with. I think we will not find anyone easier to deal with than K is. I think it is important to find out whether he wants to expand the cold war——if we make proposals on general and complete disarmament—how are we going to proceed—does he want an effective U.N., or is he determined to destroy it?——I know how he reveals himself in conversation—and it could be this could determine quite a good deal, especially if he wants to do business.——What we want to do is discover some means of creating a favorable world order and we must explore the kind of thing we could do—for example, if they would make a gesture of releasing the B-47 pilots2 we could with grace make a gesture in their direction. It would be helpful if Zorin at the U.N. got some new instructions and we could have a more profitable meeting in the Spring than we had in the Fall. I think they have been taking the initiative too long now. This would recapture the worldʼs imagination which is one of the first jobs to be done—and I donʼt think we can do it by being too cautious. I think this is one of the things that you should talk over—I havenʼt been able to get Dean.

K: We should talk about the desirability of bringing Thompson home right away to report, then we can talk to him and see what best way we can proceed from there.

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K: Who would be best one to talk to K?

S: I think the unhappy thing is the best one is me. But I havenʼt wanted to suggest this and it would come at an awkward time—but I would do this if it were deemed wise and helpful—and I would put other things aside. The alternative would be Harriman—he has disadvantages in view of the fact he always insists on talking—and has difficulty in hearing.

I think it would be best to send someone K knows and with whom he has had dealings before—someone he would be quite sure would represent you—someone influential—not just a personal diplomat.

K: Good. We will have a chance to talk before we come to a final judgment on this?

[Here follows discussion of other matters.]

  1. Source: Princeton University, Stevenson Papers, Box 832, John F. Kennedy. No classification marking.
  2. Chester B. Bowles.
  3. A reference to the two surviving crew members of an RB-47 that was shot down by the Soviet Union on July 1, 1960.