33. Message From President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev0

Dear Mr. Chairman: In reading your letter of February 10, 1962 1 I was gratified to see that you have been thinking along the same lines as Prime Minister Macmillan and myself as to the importance of the new disarmament negotiations which will begin in Geneva in March. I was gratified also to see that you agree that the heads of government should assume personal responsibility for the success of these negotiations.

The question which must be decided, of course, is how that personal responsibility can be most usefully discharged. I do not believe that the attendance by the heads of government at the outset of an 18-Nation conference is the best way to move forward. I believe that a procedure along the lines of that outlined in the letter which Prime Minister Macmillan and I addressed to you on February 7 2 is the one best designed to give impetus to the work of the conference.

I agree with the statement which you have made in your letter that there exists a better basis than has previously existed for successful work by the conference. The Agreed Statement of Principles for Disarmament Negotiations which was signed by representatives of our countries on September 20, 1961 and which was noted with approval by the 16th General Assembly of the United Nations represents a foundation upon which a successful negotiation may be built.

As you have recognized, there still exist substantial differences between our two positions. Just one example is the Soviet unwillingness so far to accord the control organization the authority to verify during the disarmament process that agreed levels of forces and armament are not exceeded.

The task of the conference will be to attempt to explore this and other differences which may exist and to search for means of overcoming them by specific disarmament plans and measures. This does not mean that the conference should stay with routine procedures or arguments or that the heads of government should not be interested in the negotiations from the very outset. It does mean that much clarifying work will have to be [Page 92]done in the early stages of negotiation before it is possible for Heads of Government to review the situation. This may be necessary in any case before June 1 when a report is to be filed on the progress achieved.

I do not mean to question the utility or perhaps even the necessity of a meeting of Heads of Government. Indeed, I am quite ready to participate personally at the Heads of Government level at any stage of the conference when it appears that such participation could positively affect the chances of success. The question is rather one of timing. I feel that until there have been systematic negotiations—until the main problems have been clarified and progress has been made, intervention by Heads of Government would involve merely a general exchange of governmental positions which might set back, rather than advance, the prospects for disarmament. It is for these reasons that I think that meetings at the highly responsible level of our Foreign Ministers as well as the Foreign Ministers of those other participating states who wish to do so would be the best instrument for the opening stages.

A special obligation for the success of the conference devolves upon our two Governments and that of the United Kingdom as nuclear powers. I therefore hope that the suggestion made in the letter of Prime Minister Macmillan and myself to you, that the Foreign Ministers of the three countries meet in advance of the conference in order to concert plans for its work, will be acceptable to the Soviet Government.

John F. Kennedy
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  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. No classification marking. The source text is a February 14 press release from the Office of the White House Press Secretary and is marked “immediate release.” Another copy is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence. Also printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States:John F. Kennedy, 1962, pp. 132-133;Documents on Disarmament, 1962, vol. I, pp. 36-38; and Claflin, The President Wants To Know, pp. 146-147.
  2. Document 32.
  3. See Document 31.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.