30. Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy0

N.S. Khrushchev, the Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, received a communication from Robert F. Kennedy1 that President John F. Kennedy is concerned by a discouraging beginning of contacts on the German problem and on other problems which should be solved in the interests of the improvement of the international situation, the strengthening of peace and the development of normal relations between our countries.

N.S. Khrushchev fully shares the President’s concern. He was discouraged even in a greater extent than the President when the USSR Foreign Minister had reported on the results of his first talks with the US Ambassador in Moscow.

The position of the American Government on a number of issues, as set forth by the US Ambassador, actually repeats what had been said many times by former President Eisenhower, Chancellor Adenauer and by other Western statesmen. It proceeds from completely wrong basis and therefore is absolutely unacceptable. In fact the Soviet Union is urged to immortalize by its signature that temporary, by its nature, situation which exists now, that is contribute to the preservation of the occupation regime in West Berlin.

But this is unthinkable. It would be not a step forward, but a step backward. It is understandable that the Soviet Union cannot agree to this. So far as one can judge by the statements of the US Ambassador in Moscow in his talks with the USSR Foreign Minister the United States would like nothing less than to preserve the unhealthy and rather dangerous situation in West Berlin which has been and remains a source of tension in Europe, causes friction among dozens of states, including the USSR and the USA. The Soviet Union is pursuing quite different aims. It wants to remove the hotbed of international tension and create conditions for the development of good friendly relations among nations.

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What the United States Government is proposing now would in effect not only throw us all back to the days of Vienna but would have created even worse prospectives. In this respect N.S. Khrushchev agrees with the President. That is why the Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers is also discouraged. Yes, discouraged and distressed.

N.S. Khrushchev does not consider it necessary to explain again the aims and position of the Soviet Government since they were stated fully enough at the meeting with the President of the United States in Vienna and also in his private messages to Mr.John F. Kennedy.

On the part of the head of the Soviet Government everything possible has been done to convince the President of the United States that drawing a final line through World War II and solving on this basis the question of changing the status of West Berlin by declaring it a free demilitarized city corresponds equally to the interests of all powers, to the interests of peace. The Soviet Government is not seeking any other aim. It is only deplorable that the US Government and the President are still searching for some hidden motives in the Soviet Union’s position on this question. But those motives simply do not exist and therefore there is no need to search for them.

Yet, what should be done now is, of course, to seek an agreement but not to push the events towards a collapse of the renewed exchange of opinions between the Governments of the USSR and the USA and towards new complications?

Now that the parties have already familiarized themselves with each others’positions it would be useful to work out jointly the bases on which a future agreement on West Berlin as well as on other questions which it is necessary to solve with the conclusion of a German peace treaty should be built. Proceeding from that the Soviet Government has worked out a draft of the main provisions of the status of a free demilitarized city of West Berlin and a draft of the protocol on guarantees which is an enclosure to this status.

These documents were given to the US Government by A.A. Gromyko, USSR Foreign Minister through Ambassador Thompson on January 12. The US Ambassador was also given a statement in which the Soviet Government’s position on the question of concluding a German peace treaty and normalizing on its basis the situation in West Berlin is explained and where it is emphasized that simultaneously such questions should be solved as appropriate legalization and confirmation of the existing German borders, due respect for the sovereignty of the GDR, non-arming of the two German states with nuclear weapons and barring them from producing those weapons, conclusion of a nonaggression pact between the NATO and the Warsaw treaty member-countries.

Having familiarized himself with those documents the President will see that neither the Soviet Union nor the GDR are encroaching upon [Page 83]West Berlin and demand more than the establishment for that city of an international legal status corresponding to the conditions of the peace time. The Soviet proposals—and it is not difficult to realize—guarantee for the population of West Berlin the right to live under the social system they choose and to have free access to the outer world.

N.S. Khrushchev would like very much the President to consider with understanding the concrete proposals which are in the drafts of the main provisions of the status of a free demilitarized city of West Berlin and the protocol on the guarantees. Those proposals do not make harm to anyone, do not discriminate against anybody.

The policy which the Western powers continue to stick to might somehow have been understood in the times when it was originated. That is a policy of diktat, a policy “from the position of strength”. The late Dulles did not make bones about it. But one wants to conduct this policy even now ignoring the enormous changes that have taken place in the world.

The President of the United States has himself said and everybody knows it that now the balance of power is equal. How, then, is it possible proceeding from the equal initial conditions to attempt to conduct a policy of encroachment on the interests of the USSR and its allies—socialist countries? But what the US Government is proposing is aimed precisely against our interests.

It is known that the policy “from the position of strength” with respect to the USSR has proved bankrupt. The establishment of the military bases around the Soviet Union, the discontinuance of trade with it—all that was aimed at the isolation of the USSR and other socialist countries, at undermining their economy. Such policy has suffered a defeat.

And this is clear to every sober-minded man if he does not deliberately close his eyes to it. It is bound to go bankrupt in the future as well if one resorts to it.

The USSR economy is striding forward and prospering. Science and technology are rapidly developing. The Soviet Union has scored great successes in the exploration of outer space. The entire world including the President of the United States recognizes the achievements of our country.

Then how under these conditions one can continue to pursue the “policy from the position of strength”? It is hard to reconcile one with the other. Therefore if the Soviet Union had not complied with and rebuffed this policy in the past, the more so will it not consent to a humiliating agreement now. The USSR will struggle with all available means against any attempt to impose upon it the conditions that do not correspond to the interests of consolidating peace and it will never sign such agreements. If on its part the United States does not display an understanding [Page 84]of this, some time will pass and the world will witness that this policy is suffering the same and even greater defeat as before. If in the past Dulles threatened the Soviet Union relying on the atomic weapons monopoly, now there is no trace of such monopoly. The USSR and the US are equal. Therefore it would be senseless to threaten one or the other side with war. The USSR is threatening nobody, it does not want war, and all its efforts are aimed at excluding war. It is senseless to threaten war on the Soviet people which is seeking only the normalization of international situation and liquidation of the vestiges of the war. The one who tries to frighten the Soviet people and threaten them will get in response the same that he is threatening with and not in a lesser degree.

Therefore the best thing now, if to proceed from common sense and sober consideration of all facts, is to spare no effort to normalize relations, and first of all among major powers, and not to preserve the hotbeds of tension.

N.S. Khrushchev hopes that the President of the United States will display a correct understanding of the situation.N.S. Khrushchev is under the impression that the President has difficulties and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers understands that. But every leader has his difficulties. Therefore it is necessary to undertake joint efforts to overcome those difficulties and reach such agreements which would be beneficial to peoples of the Soviet Union and the United States as well as all other peoples that long for peace and tranquil life.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence. No classification marking. The source text is a Soviet translation. Another copy of the source text is in Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163; it is attached to a brief note from Rusk to McNamara stating that Bundy had handed it to him the morning of January 18. A January 18 note from Bohlen to Rusk states that the message was received by the Attorney General and that the Russian translation was given to President Kennedy. Under cover of his note to Rusk, Bohlen forwarded a “very quick, rough translation” that is similar to but not identical to the source text. (Ibid.) In his February 15 letter to Khrushchev ( Document 34), President Kennedy referred to the source text as “the message which you sent me through my brother.”
  2. Not further identified.