27. Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy 0

Dear Mr. President, Within a short period of time I had an opportunity to read two [of] your messages—one addressed to our country and the other, a confidential one, to me personally.1

I want to express appreciation for those kind words and wishes which were addressed by you to me in the talk with A.I. Adzhubei. I am satisfied, as you are, that this interesting interview has taken place and would like to hope, together with you, that it will contribute to better understanding between our countries. I think you did not expect that we would agree with all your observations. Nevertheless, I would say that some of the ideas expressed by you sound encouraging.

Yes, the Soviet Union and the United States of America must live in peace with each other. They must build their relations on the basis of reason, of due regard for the real situation, and of mutual respect, on the basis of the establishing of the principle of peaceful coexistence between states with different social systems in international affairs. This is the only right and sound basis for cooperation and securing of a lasting and stable peace. It is my most ardent desire that it would not remain only a dream and not become a mirage, that creates nothing but false hopes.

But allow me to return to your letter of December 2. I read with satisfaction the words to the effect that our personal and unofficial exchange should not be used for the repetition of arguments and statements usually resorted to in public debates and propaganda. Being in a complete agreement with that I expected to find in your letter something new, not things which I saw many times on the pages of Western newspapers and magazines which are still afraid of fresh air and prefer a stuffy and poisoned atmosphere of the “cold war” but, frankly, I was disappointed because while reading the letter I was finding exactly what you, yourself, have cautioned against.

In your letter you, Mr. President, found it necessary to formulate flately the demands which must as one may understand you, be accepted without fail by the Soviet Union as a condition for negotiation on the settlement of the German problem. There is hardly any need to say [Page 70] whether it is proper or improper to put forward to one another any preliminary conditions for negotiations? I think there can be no two opinions here. And therefore, leaving aside this question, I would like to express frankly my opinion on the substance of these conditions.

First of all, you state that the troops of the USA, Great Britain and France “will stay in West Berlin as long as the people of West Berlin want them to stay”. It could sound as an ultimatum. But even most die-hard politicians in the West understand now that one cannot speak such language with us. Then, there must be something else in it. Frankly speaking, it is not difficult to understand that an attempt to make the presence of the troops of the three powers in West Berlin dependent on “the will of the population” reflects in effect a desire to create a new basis for their presence there. Evidently, the US Government also has inwardly come to the conclusion that to try now, 16 years after the end of the war, to base its claims upon the right of occupation or the right of a victor, or, as some say in the US, upon the right of the conquest, does not meet either the norms of international law or the spirit of time.

The approach to this question advocated in the letter in all desire cannot be accepted as valid and still less as meeting the aims of the normalization of the situation in West Berlin. As a matter of fact, Mr. President, the troops of the USA, Britain and France came to West Berlin, as known, neither on the request of the population nor for its protection. The purpose of their stationing there—let us be frank with each other—was entirely different from that of which you write in your letter. You want us to recognize now all the changes which have been unilaterally made by the Western powers in West Berlin, and not only in West Berlin, and to stand obediently on guard of the present rights of the USA, Britain and France on which we have never made any agreement with you. For to call a spade a spade we are now acting as traffic cops for the movement of the NATO troops into West Berlin. I emphasize that these are the NATO troops because American, British and French troops stationed in West Berlin are part and parcel of the armed forces of this bloc. And as to the intentions of the NATO with regard to the Soviet Union and our allies we are well informed of them.

You demand that contrary to common sense we continue to be traffic cops on the roads to West Berlin, and your temporary occupational rights become permanent there. How one can count on reaching an agreement on such a basis? This is not the way things happen in life, in any case we cannot agree to this.

You yourself note that it is necessary to avoid “the danger of unilateral actions”, to avoid repudiation “of agreements and goals that both of us have legally assumed”. But why this wish should concern the Soviet Union only? In your letter unfortunately I couldn’t find any signs of recognition of reciprocity.

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It seems that it is not necessary for me to repeat what were the major points in our agreements on Germany which now—not through our fault—are actually not exercised.

Occupation of any given territory is a temporary measure—this is exactly how it was written down in the corresponding agreements on Germany. Occupational rights can naturally be valid only as long as the state of war exists. Strictly speaking already now, occupation ought to have been ended since state of war with Germany was terminated by unilateral statements. In any case there can be no place left for it after a peace treaty has been concluded.

One may think that it is a desire to have at any cost its troops in West Berlin that prevents the US from taking part in a peaceful German settlement. You should understand us, Mr. President—and I believe you do—even if the US threatens us, tests our nerves and will, we cannot and will never agree to the prolongation of occupational order, we will struggle for our rights, for a real normalization of the situation in the center of Europe. We cannot be the guards of anybody’s occupational rights forever. Sometime an end must come to all that. Even enslaving agreements have times provisions, let us say, 99 years. Even matrimonial ties, confirmed by church and law, sometimes weaken with time and break. For example, your countryman Mr. Rockefeller, having lived with his wife for 30 years decided to break up the marriage. No use to go into the reasons that caused this divorce but in all probability there must have been some.

As for you, you do not set any time limit. You mean forever, though you do not use this word. Do they in Western countries expect that socialist system in the GDR will outlive itself and then the German problem will be solved in the way these countries want? But socialism is a progressive vital system, it has no time limit, it will constantly develop and strengthen.

One cannot count on its liquidation. And if that is the reason for the desire to keep forever the regime of occupation in West Berlin—it is a strange, separated from life philosophy.

It can rest—excuse my harsh judgements—only on the megalomania, on an intention to act from the position of strength, though at our meeting in Vienna we, it seems, came to joint conclusion that strength and threats are not the argument which leads to mutual understanding.

True, you say that you denounce force as a means for achieving goals. I understand you did not want to say that you are displaying generosity otherwise it would sound humiliating. It is well known that in politics just as in physics every action causes counteraction, and application of force or repudiation of its use are connected, to speak in broad terms, not with the nature of character of one or another statesman but first of all with the actual state of affairs, with the balance of power which makes peaceful settlement of all disputable questions a pressing necessity [Page 72] now and in the future. We have always deemed it unreasonable to orient ourselves in politics on strength and we call on other governments to do the same.

In defense of your position you refer to the rights and interests of the population of West Berlin. But you, Mr. President, are certainly aware that no one of the socialist countries is infringing upon these rights and interests. We have always proceeded from the fact that it is an internal affairs of the population of one or another state to choose its social, political and economic system.

The Soviet Union is ready to declare solemnly and to confirm in a treaty, in any international act the right of the West Berlin population to be the masters of their destiny, to live without any interference from outside, the right of West Berlin for unimpeded ties with the outside world. But we cannot recognize and will not recognize any right for the West Berlin population to call foreign troops into West Berlin since this affects the security of many states. We are for safeguarding the sovereignty of West Berlin but at the same time one obviously cannot neglect the sovereignty of other countries and first of all the sovereignty of the country in the center of which West Berlin is situated, through the territory of which all its communications with the outside world run. We do not bring the solution any closer when we are carried away by one side of the matter and do not want to take into consideration the other, if we talk of the rights of the two million citizens of West Berlin and do not want at all to give due regard to the right of the citizens of the GDR.

I like your suggestion to speak of “the real situation we face”. I understand it so that, proceeding from the real situation existing in Germany, in Europe and throughout the world, we should try to reach mutual understanding on the most important questions, on which it depends today whether there be peace or war on earth. But the actual situation is not what is to the liking of one side—of the United States or the Soviet Union. It has as its components the whole range of facts, notwithstanding how pleasant or unpleasant they may be. These facts are such that the question of the presence of these or other troops in West Berlin affects many countries, its solution can influence not in a small degree the direction of further development of Soviet-American relations, and all international situations.

Here, like in other questions, one should proceed from the reality of life and to act from the position of reason. In other words, one should see not only his rights and somebody’s obligations but also his obligations and somebody’s rights, not only defend his own interests but also take into consideration the interests of the other side if one has a desire to sincerely seek a mutually acceptable agreement.

In this connection one cannot but pay attention to the statement in your letter that “under no circumstances,” that is even after the conclusion [Page 73] of a peace treaty, the US has no intention to recognize the sovereignty of the GDR over its own territory through which all communications of West Berlin with the outside world run. I will tell you frankly—a dangerous position for the cause of peace! In previous messages I dwelt upon this question in detail and explained the view of the Soviet Union. Here I would deem it necessary only to emphasize once again the inconsistency and unreality of such approach. It cannot contribute to a speediest finding of a right solution of the problem we face. We would still like to believe that the Western Powers will understand this and will choose another way, the way of respect for international norms and sovereignty of all states, irrespective of their social system.

Allow me now to express my opinion on another condition—on the possibility of presence in West Berlin of Soviet troops as guarantors. You know well from my messages how the Soviet Union formulates this question. We are not seeking to have our troops in West Berlin. The Soviet Government believes that our troops have nothing to do there, just as the troops of the Western Powers. The best thing would be to have no troops in West Berlin. And if you are very interested in placing foreign troops as guarantors let us agree that these will be the UN troops.

If you do not want the Soviet Union to be a guarantor, we are not fishing for any additional obligations: we have enough work of our own. Please deal on all questions of interest to you with the German Democratic Republic. But we believe that in this case also there should be no troops of the Western Powers in West Berlin and if there still have to be some troops there these should be the UN international troops.

However, as I understand, the US continues to insist that “responsibility” should lie on the Soviet Union. You should agree, Mr. President, that we can guarantee the interests of West Berlin only on equal conditions with other states and, naturally, not to the detriment of the sovereignty of the GDR.

It is easy to say, of course: in concluding a peace treaty with the GDR make provisions for the securing of such and such rights for the Western Powers and everything will settle by itself. Firstly, I have to say again that the Western Powers cannot expect from us more than they themselves have done and are doing. Secondly, a peace treaty would hardly correspond to its purpose and even to its name if instead of liquidating the vestiges of the war and occupation it confirmed and prolonged them forever.

If there is a desire to limit the subject of the negotiation only to the confirmation of the occupation regime and the occupation rights, to a more accurate definition as to on what kilometer and how many our traffic cops should stand, then I am not sure whether there will be any sense and, which is more important, any use in such negotiation. I would like to think that in the course of our exchange a necessary degree of accord [Page 74] has been established between us to the effect that the purpose of the negotiation is to bring the situation in a certain area—important from the point of view of the preservation of peace—in accordance with radically changed conditions, of course, could not be precisely anticipated at its time in quadripartite agreements on Germany and Berlin.

I can express my satisfaction with your words to the effect that the main goal of the USSR and the US Governments is to ensure peace and not only care for prestige. Peace and peace treaty, I think you will agree, are extremely close terms. You are inclined to believe that the peace treaty proposed by us will increase tension. This will depend not upon the treaty but upon the actions of Western Powers. Our proposals on peaceful settlement do not contain anything which could objectively cause an aggravation of [the] situation. It is our deep belief that a peace treaty even with one German state is already a great progress since—though on a part of the territory—it draws a line through World War II, removes its vestiges which, like poisonous plants, give shoots of “cold war” every hour. How a peace treaty aimed at establishing peace among states can cause tension! If there are any other suggestions for solving the problem of liquidation of the occupational regime on the basis of a peaceful settlement, we are ready to consider them and will willingly have exchange of views.

In your letter, Mr. President, you raise a question about your troops as the “guarantors.” We also know that recently in the US there have been much talk and writing in this connection. To listen to some people in the West, it looks as if only they do really care about West Berlin and its population, though it is well known that nobody threatens this city either with war or an invasion.

But let us objectively analyze the situation in West Berlin. You, of course, know very well that the Soviet Union stands firmly to guarantee to the population of this city the right to live at their own discretion. We deeply believe at the same time that West Berlin—and this is in fact the essence of the matter—must have a perspective, a belief in its future. The population of this city needs most of all a healthy economy that can ensure full employment and high standard of living, flow of orders, inflow of capital into industry, and permanently guaranteed markets. Life in West Berlin can be in full swing only when production able to compete is organized, when the city establishes normal relations with other states, including the GDR.

But is this possible under the conditions of preserving the occupational regime which would continue to be an apple of discord and the cause of tension—is this possible? Is occupation the best way to ensure the interests of the city? The more troops there will be in West Berlin, the less confidence and the more doubts about the stability of the situation. Stationing of foreign garrisons could testify only to the abnormality of [Page 75] the situation. Is sitting on the volcano helpful for calming down one’s nerves? What practical businessman will invest his money into business where all is shaky and a lot is unknown? Who would give him longterm orders, who would seek to live in such city where real frontline atmosphere is artificially maintained?

Without the normalization of the situation, without confidence in its future West Berlin is a doomed city. But it can have future, good, prosperous future in case it ceases to be the center of “cold war”, a base of subversive activities against socialist countries and would not be used to aggravate the situation, which all impedes its life and the life of the neighbouring countries. What the US is proposing now will not cure the present illness of the city but, on the contrary, will make it still worse. Before long everybody will realize that West Berlin cannot exist under the conditions in which it is placed now, its business life will die and the population, deprived of a perspective, will have to seek solutions to all these problems in one way or another.

And not by chance there is even now, as it is evident from reports by Western press, a flight of citizens of West Berlin and “a flight” of capital from West Berlin. This process will inevitably grow if we only do not agree and create a confidence for the city in its future.

If the care should really be taken for the West Berlin population living calmly, without any fear about tomorrow, then it must be firmly acknowledged that the best possible solution is to sign a peace treaty or treaties with two German states and to admit these states to the United Nations. Thus, it will be possible to clean up completely international relations from dangerous and unnecessary layers, which remained as the heritage of World War II. Is it not a tempting and noble aim for the sake of which we together should work?

In treaties or in a solemn proclamation or in a declaration we could express our ideas about the future of Germany—about the restoration of its unity. You propose to proceed in that from the right of Germans for self-determination. You are right. Let us, then—in our positions—proceed from the exact meaning of this word—self-determination. And it means that Germans should self-determine, without an interference from outside. Germans should get together with Germans, one German government—with the other German government and define on what basis and how they will solve the question of the restoration of German unity. Let other powers, on their part, state that they will not create any obstacles for Germans. All must be in the way Germans will agree.

You will probably understand in a different way many things of which I am telling you now. Well, there are reasons for that. The United States of America did not feel all burdens of World War II in such a degree as we did. And you yourself spoke of that. Even today the United States is separated from Europe by the ocean. And everything is felt not so[Page 76]sharp from afar as in proximity. If you really think that you can live without a German peace treaty, it is up to you. We are not going to impose terms of peaceful settlement with Germany upon anybody of our former allies, though we will regret if the US and other Western Powers refuse to sign a German peace treaty.

But let us see what can be done to lessen tension in a situation when one group of states does not consider it necessary to sign a German peace treaty while the other has stated its intention to achieve peaceful settlement even with one of the existing German states.

I have already written to you that the Soviet Government considers it possible to agree, before the conclusion of a peace treaty with the GDR, on basic questions which are of interest to both sides. Thus, it will be possible to avoid an unnecessary aggravation of relations first of all between the USSR and the US and to settle those questions to which each of our governments attaches special importance. It is possible to agree beforehand on a status of a free city of West Berlin as I spoke of that with Mr. Spaak and to make the agreement formal by a special protocol which would be annexed to a peace treaty with the GDR. Other important questions could be solved alongside in due order. If it is accomplished an entirely different situation will come into existence in Europe and especially in West Berlin, and its citizens will undoubtedly sigh with relief. To say nothing of the fact that in this case favorable opportunities for the development of economy and of public and political life will be created in West Berlin.

This is the most wise solution which is expected from the Great Powers by the peoples of the world. It will ensure better conditions for the peaceful life of the peoples of the USSR and the US which they—and I fully support your words—equally need.

I would further like, in the interests of clarity to emphasize once again that the conclusion of a peace treaty is not a theoretical goal but a practical one for us. From the point of view of our national interests it is one of the most important questions and we attach paramount importance to its solution.

You wrote in your recent letter—and this idea was somehow reflected in your interview with A.I. Adzhubei—about the right of the Soviet Union for due ensurance of its national security. This is a fair approach.

You can further ask: what is of particular importance for us in the German question regarding the ensurance of the national security of the Soviet Union? I shall answer in all frankness: our main goal is to exclude a possibility for an outbreak of war in Germany or because of Germany. You maintain that the FRG does not constitute a threat to peace or security of the Soviet Union or other socialist countries. We cannot agree with that because we do not have the right to ignore the hard lessons of the past. To you, Mr. President, our warnings of the revival of German militarism [Page 77] and revanchism look like propaganda. To the peoples of the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia and other European countries German militarism continues to be a real threat, and they must always have this in mind if they do not want the events to take them by surprise again.

Mr. President, is it any use for us to argue whether West Germany is a potential source of a military threat? If one wishes to do so this discussion can be endlessly prolonged for there are no such scales that can precisely weigh the arguments of each side. Wouldn’t it be better for us to turn to an objective criteria—historic experience. It binds the statesmen not to dismiss the worst possibility, it demands not to let the events come out of control, and not to make our future and our very existence dependent on the outcome of struggle in Germany between the forces of good and evil. We want to be masters of our destinies. You must agree that after what happened 20 years ago, we have the right to be insured against any historic reverses of fortune.

You think that at present the US have the situation in the FRG under control. Let it be so. And what the situation will be in 5-10 years? Senator Humphrey, for example, believes that soon West Germans may demand that American, British and French troops go because they consider themselves strong enough? And in every probability the Western Powers will have to go. The US would not go to war with Bundeswehr, would it? And what else? Can one be certain that a new lunatic will not appear in the FRG who ignoring real dislocation of forces would want to put into practice what militarists-revanchists are shouting from every roof in West Germany? Then it would probably be too late to think of the creation of security system and the prevention of a threat on the part of German militarism and it might happen we will have to pay for that with millions and millions of lives?

The farther we depart in time and policy from the Allied agreements on Germany, the more difficult it will be to find joint effective guarantees against the threat of German militarism to peace and stability which as it seems have to be our joint aim. If it is difficult now to agree on a German peace treaty because of the differences between the former allies, later on it may turn out to be even more difficult.

I am frankly sharing some thoughts with you and, please, don’t understand me that another attempt is made [to] agitate you for a peace treaty. I believe that deep in your heart you will agree with me that the Soviet Union after all it has suffered cannot be indifferent to what is happening in West Germany. Behind every demand of ours to secure lasting peace in Europe and prevent new German aggression—and this is exactly the reason we want to liquidate the vestiges of World War II and to conclude a German peace treaty—are millions of lives of perished Soviet people. We will do everything to have a peace treaty concluded and we cannot act otherwise. Such is our duty before mankind and our right.

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With all the wish to have good relations with you personally, to have good relations with your government and the United States of America we must conclude a German peace treaty and we will conclude it even if you do not agree with this. Our most cherished goal is to solve all the problems inherited from World War II in cooperation with the US, in agreement with you. We say this honestly and openly. But I do not want to conceal it either that the USSR will sign a peace treaty with the GDR with all naturally ensuing consequences without the US if there is no other way out.

Of course, in this case too we would try to avoid unnecessary aggravations. I hope that such aggravations will not happen if leading Western Powers defining their position take into consideration multi-sided experience of peaceful settlement with various countries during the post-war period, including those in the Far East.

Of course, we are far from understanding the positive moments that have already begun to show in the course of the exchange of views between the governments of the Soviet Union and the US. But one should not close his eyes to the fact that on main principal questions narrowing the differences in our positions proceeds exceedingly slowly and, may be, sometime it does not proceed at all.

I would not like you to understand my observations as an expression of desire to argue one or another thesis of your letter only because it comes from the other side. I simply thought that I had the right to state in reply to your frank statements my viewpoint without unnecessary diplomacy in this case.

I believe, Mr. President, that our governments will be able to cooperate to the benefit of all peoples, setting as their supreme goal service to peace and in determining their positions they will always have in mind that we have all the possibilities to live in good harmony and find right solutions of any controversial problems.

The Soviet Union on its part is ready for this. Any journey begins with the first step. We have to make it together and we would like that it will be directed to one and the same goal—the strengthening of peace.


N. Khrushchev
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163. No classification marking. Attached to the source text was a 3-paragraph letter of transmittal from Bohlen to Thompson that stated that it was a “translation as received from the Russians.” Another copy of this message and the Russian-language text is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence.
  2. The confidential message is Document 26; the other message is the interview with Adzhubei; see footnote 1, Document 26.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.