105. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union0

2590. Following is final revised text to which we have agreed with the British. Request you compare it with text which Trevelyan receiving separately, and concert with him on immediate delivery to Khrushchev or highest available official. Request you work out with Soviets timing and wording of announcement if they so desire.

Begin Verbatim Text

Dear Mr. Chairman:

Since we received your letter of May 8 about the question of the treaty to ban nuclear tests, 1 Prime Minister Macmillan and I have been carefully considering it and we have now jointly agreed to send you letters in similar terms.
Let me say first of all that Prime Minister Macmillan and I are glad that you feel able to accept our suggestion that we should send highly placed representatives to Moscow who would be empowered to carry this question further and would be able to discuss the matter with you. We should be glad to send our representatives to Moscow at a time convenient to you either during the last half of June or, if you would prefer this, in the first half of July. We would hope that our representatives might have the advantage of a personal discussion with you.
We realize that our positions are still different, especially on the nature of the problem of inspections, but we agree with you that it is important “to use every opportunity in order to effect a rapprochement of the positions of the respective sides.” It is in this spirit that we think a visit of high-level representatives to Moscow would be good, so that both sides can talk fully and freely about ways of bridging the gap between us.
If you can accept this proposal, we suggest that the present correspondence should remain confidential but that in view of the world-wide interest an announcement should be made straightaway to the effect that as a result of our correspondence on the subject of a nuclear test ban treaty, it has been agreed that you will receive highly placed representatives of the Prime Minister and me in Moscow during the month of June/July in order to carry forward the discussion of possibilities.
There are, however, two points that you have made in your letter to which we think we should reply in advance of detailed discussions. In the first place, you state that “national means now available for discovering nuclear explosions, including also underground explosions, are amply sufficient to unmask any state which might try to conduct nuclear weapons tests under cover of secrecy.” You cite the example of recent French tests in the Sahara, point out that your seismologists detected the vibrations in the earth produced by these tests and state that you have no doubt that our seismologists “also have recorded these vibrations.”
While we agree that developments in seismological techniques have made it possible now to detect most of the earth tremors produced by subterranean disturbances of significant size, we do not agree that it is possible by these techniques alone to ascertain in many important cases whether these tremors were caused by natural earthquakes or man-made explosions. For such identification on-site inspection is still necessary in many cases. This was, of course, the position agreed by the Geneva Conference of Experts in 1958 in which Soviet scientists participated; and at recent private conferences between scientists of our three countries there has been general agreement that there are underground events which occur in both of our countries whose origin could not be identified with certainty without an on-site inspection.
To return to the recent French test in the Sahara, the earth tremors produced by the most recent French test were certainly detected, but prior to the French test it was generally known that it was going to take place in the fairly near future as well as where it would be. The detection of the earth tremors from the French underground nuclear explosion therefore does not, in our view, prove that all nuclear explosions can be identified by national detection systems alone. This is, of course, the central point in our argument in favor of a reasonable number of on-site inspections for underground tests as part of a treaty to ban all nuclear tests, and we sincerely believe this argument to be well founded on scientific fact.
The second point to which we feel we must refer is your suggestion that the purpose of our requirement for a system of on-site inspections is to send intelligence agents on to the Soviet territory so as to carry out espionage. We most sincerely and categorically affirm that we have no such purpose. We had thought that this was made clear by the proposals we have made which in our view would prevent on-site inspections being misused for espionage purposes. If you are still in doubt on this matter, our representatives are prepared to discuss in detail the safeguards which could be arranged in this matter so that we can satisfy each other that we are both prepared to enter into a test ban in good faith. We think that reasonable provisions for on-site inspections will make it possible for us to work out a treaty which will endure and not be liable to [Page 292]break down because of unfounded suspicions which could easily have been dispelled by reasonable provisions for verification. We believe that given good will it should be possible to reach agreement on a method of inspection and on a number which would satisfy both of us.

Mr.Macmillan and I wish in conclusion to express our pleasure at your belief that the signing of a treaty to end nuclear weapons tests would have value both in itself and because of its positive effect on the international situation. It is in this belief, which we share, that we hope that the high level discussions we are proposing can take place in Moscow.

Sincerely, John F. Kennedy. End verbatim text.

  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. Top Secret; Operational Immediate; Eyes Only. Drafted and approved by Tyler and cleared by Bundy. Another copy of this message is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence.
  2. Document 99.