42. Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy 0

Dear Mr. President, I have received your message on the German affairs1 and have closely studied the U.S. Government’s memorandum handed by your Ambassador to the Soviet Foreign Minister on March [Page 119] 6.2 I regret that after so many meetings of our representatives and in spite of our confidential communication, the negotiations on the questions relating to German peaceful settlement do not make any progress, to put it mildly. I have the impression that the American side has not got rid of the preconception that under the peaceful settlement which we seek somebody takes something, somebody gives—one takes an orchard and gives an apple, or sells the same horse twice. To be frank, I simply do not understand such an approach to the appraisal of the meaning of our negotiations.

Perhaps the reason for that is that we look at things from different angles, that we view the situation and the causes that have brought it about in a different way and consequently we have different views on the methods of eliminating the existing tension. If you could distract yourself from the notions so deeply rooted overseas and look at the situation in the way we see it after all we have lived through, you would probably see for yourself that in a German peaceful settlement nobody sells or buys anything, nobody trades unequal values.

No, from the point of view of common sense the situation here is quite clear. A terrible blood-shedding war took place. The peoples of our countries fought shoulder-to-shoulder against the common enemy—aggressive Hitlerite Germany. By a supreme effort and at a cost of countless losses we achieved the goal—defeated the enemy. By right of conquerors the four Allied Powers—the USSR, the USA, Britain and France—occupied temporarily, till the peace treaty is signed, the territory of Germany who had unleashed World War II.

As a heritage from our predecessors we have got a delimitation of our troops, which was not quite reasonable, and the division of Berlin into four parts. I was told that when at the end of the war the plans of occupation of Germany were discussed at the European Advisory Commission the British proposed to seat the Allied Control Council not in Berlin but in a small town at the juncture of the three occupation zones. That proposal motivated by practical considerations was not accepted and it was decided to seat the Control Council for symbolic reasons, in the capital of defeated Hitlerite Germany.

Nobody could then envisage, of course, that there would be two Germanies and the people acted at the time on the basis of the requirements of organization of military occupation. It may serve as a certain excuse for those who adopted decisions at that time.

But history does not always develop as the statesmen foresee. In reality it turned out that there exist two Germanies. Neither you, Mr. President, nor I know for how long the two German states that emerged on the ruins of the Reich will exist, if they ever unite. And our sympathies for [Page 120] these states are not quite the same: you sympathize with social and political system of the FRG, and I naturally sympathize with the German Democratic Republic as a socialist state.

In addition there exists West Berlin. The population of this city lives under old capitalist order while around it—on the territory of the GDR—socialist order has been established. And here we are looking for a solution—how to ensure peaceful coexistence under these circumstances.

You are well aware, Mr. President, that because of the absence of peaceful settlement and the continuation of occupation West Berlin has for many years been causing serious and dangerous frictions between us. I will not conceal that when you insist on keeping your troops in West Berlin, we understand it as an expression of a desire to preserve a NATO beachhead and military base against us inside the GDR. We entered Berlin as allies but we are not allies any longer. Moreover—we are in different military blocs—you are in the North Atlantic bloc, we are in the Warsaw Treaty Organization—organization of socialist countries. These two groups are antagonistic because the NATO countries have formed their bloc against socialist countries. To protect our interests we had to set up a defensive Warsaw Treaty Organization. What was left to be done?

You note that the present situation in Germany is not satisfactory. This is our point of view too. And what can we do now? Once upon a time, so the story goes, two goats met head to head on a narrow bridge across an abyss. They would not give the way to each other and down they fell. They were stupid and stubborn animals.

But if we fail now to show sober understanding of the situation and do not realize that we have to pass by each other in a friendly way and not to collide at the place where, as you yourself emphasized, our essential interests do not cross—then it will be difficult to take a reasonable decision which would permit both sides to live calmly.

You often call West Berlin a stumbling block and say that until recently everything was allegedly all right there. When we propose to sign a peace treaty and to create a free demilitarized city in West Berlin granting its population guarantees of free and independent life you assert that this is abnormal. It means, that situation can be considered normal only when your troops are stationed in West Berlin as occupants, when the state of war is preserved there, and you do not want to participate in concluding a peace treaty. But could it really be considered normal? This is against common sense.

The Soviet Union proceeds from the necessity to find such a solution which would not cause damage to either side; we must solve this whole problem amicably and, having solved it, not collide with each other in the future. In short, it is necessary to untie knots which create frictions between our states.

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I do not know, Mr. President, what else you could suggest as a solution of this problem. My colleagues and I could not find anything better for the improvement of post-war relations other than the conclusion of a German peace treaty and the normalization of the situation in West Berlin on this basis. To use the language of your representatives, we do not sell or buy this city as a horse. We do not want to own this horse and it is not your horse after all. It belongs to none of us.

West Berlin has turned out to be a capitalist island in the midst of socialist countries. So, what! Let it remain such—we do not want to seize this island or to liquidate the capitalist order which exists on it. Let it be fixed what has been given by history.

You write in your message that two principles must be taken as a starting point: (1) to avoid any shift favorable to one side and detrimental to the other, and (2) to ensure a greater degree of stability and tranquility in the entire German situation. If one adds to this that it is also necessary to take into consideration the real situation in Germany, i.e. the existence of the two German states—then one can say that these very principles form the basis of the Soviet proposals on the conclusion of a German peace treaty. The peace treaty should fix the situation which really exists, should not allow to upset the established balance and should secure stable peace and tranquility in Europe and not only in Europe.

One of the important aspects of such solution is the respect for the sovereignty of the German Democratic Republic. No one demands from the Western powers to do more than observe generally adopted norms of the international law and international practice with regard to the GDR. One cannot ignore the dignity and sovereign rights of a state, especially if one wants to use the routes of communications crossing its territory as well as its services, if a display of good will is expected from it. And it is impossible to achieve a peaceful solution by pushing aggressive circles of the FRG to still new aggravations of the situation in the center of Europe.

You write that both sides should refrain from actions which would burden the proceeding negotiations. This is a right idea. Unfortunately, the Western powers are still trying in everything—both in major and in minor matters—to ignore and tread on the rights of the GDR. The NATO Council—not without the US participation, one can assume—has even adopted a special decision recommending the members of this bloc to deprive the citizens of the GDR of the possibility to have normal contacts with many countries of the world. But what if the GDR in response to such a defiant decision forbade the citizens of the NATO countries to go and to fly to the GDR or anywhere through its territory? The Western powers, evidently, would not like it, but that would be the exercise by the German Democratic Republic of its sovereign right. Why, then, do the [Page 122] USA and its allies consider it possible to hold such a position towards the German Democratic Republic?

Or, perhaps, one should regard as a contribution to the solution of the questions discussed by us the endless and—let us call a spade a spade—provocative visits by politicians of the FRG and other NATO countries to West Berlin? I do not wish to go into polemics now and therefore I will not refer to many well known facts.

You, Mr. President, in your message, and also the US Ambassador when he called on the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR touched upon the question of the flights of Soviet aircraft in the air routes leading to West Berlin over the territory of the GDR. In so doing the American side tries to create an impression as if the Soviet aircraft make “aggressive harassment” to the flights of the aircraft of the USA, Britain and France to West Berlin. I see no necessity to dwell on this question: the actual situation and our position are undoubtedly well known to the US Government. This position is based entirely on the corresponding international agreements and on the practice of use of these air routes.

There seems to be somebody’s hand in this artificial heating up of the atmosphere around the Berlin air routes. To our mind, the best thing to do would be not to encourage certain hot-heads in the NATO, especially among the military, but to cool them off so that they realize at last that no instigating actions can change the situation and deprive the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic of what they possess. Abandoning by the Western powers of their attempts to violate the lawful interests of the GDR and the USSR would constitute that very abstention from unilateral actions, creating the danger of outbreak of serious incidents, which the US Government calls for.

Generally speaking, it is very difficult to find in the document handed by Ambassador Thompson on March 6 a desire to facilitate an agreement. There is, however, a statement in it to the effect that the US stands for the achievement of a just and peaceful settlement of disputed questions dividing our countries. This statement is correct, but, unfortunately, it is not substantiated in the negotiations in order to achieve the necessary agreement.

I would not like to leave anything unclear—one way or another we will sign a German peace treaty. I have already said in Vienna and repeat it now that if there is no other choice we will make use of the US example and the lesson which was taught us by it in case with Japan. Some hot-heads occupying official positions in the USA are threatening us with various misfortunes, but I think they are more clever in their doings than in their words because only suicides can now threaten with war but suicides are always insane people. I, for myself, consider that our counterparts with whom we conduct conversation are mentally normal people [Page 123] and can realistically evaluate and understand what it would mean to attack the Soviet Union or another country.

Some people allege that we are attacking someone, demanding a peaceful German settlement. But no sane person can consider as an attack the talks on the conclusion of a peace treaty. And the conclusion of a peace treaty means putting an end not only to the state of war but also to the state of hostility which results from an unaccomplished peaceful settlement.

I believe that we, the men vested with great trust and responsibility by our peoples, should understand all this correctly and should oppose opinions which sometimes push us to the wrong way. To say it straight: let us not frighten each other with words. We have seen enough of frightening. You, Mr. President, participated in the World War II, I participated not only in that war. Both of us are aware what war means and as the leaders of states we know what military means are now at the disposal of the USSR and the USA. Let us not count by pieces who has more or who has fewer modern means of mass destruction. Each of our countries has already stock-piled more than enough means to inflict an irreparable devastating blow.

The Soviet Union intends to conclude a German peace treaty. If we do not find common language with you and you yourself do not want to take part in the peaceful settlement then the Soviet Union and other states will sign the peace treaty with the GDR.

My colleagues and I have much pondered—how to bring closer our positions on the questions under discussion including the problem of ensuring a free access to West Berlin. Your recent letter, in which certain ideas on this point are expressed, strengthened my intention to share with you the considerations that we have arrived at on the creation of an international organ on the access to West Berlin. I hope that the ideas that I am expressing here will be received with good will, without prejudice.

Specifically I have in mind the following:

We are prepared to meet halfway the desire expressed by you and to agree to the creation of a special international organ on the access to West Berlin for the period of time that will be defined by the agreement between us. The organ that I have in mind would act as an arbiter if difficulties appeared during the practical implementation of the agreements on free access to and from West Berlin. It would not be empowered with any administrative functions which would give it authority to directly regulate traffic or set its own regulations on the traffic routes connecting West Berlin with the outside world because this is a prerogative of the German Democratic Republic. In brief, any talk of an organ of the kind proposed by the American side at the negotiations in Moscow, which would be a kind of state within state is out of question. Such situation would be in basic contradiction with the most elementary concepts of respect for the[Page 124]sovereignty of states. From the remarks made by the American side you also, it seems to me, see the necessity to take this aspect of the matter into consideration.

Naturally, the creation of the international organ on the access to West Berlin that I have in mind is possible only under the condition that the troops which are now stationed there by virtue of occupation are withdrawn from West Berlin as a result of the conclusion of a peace treaty. We consider that for West Berlin itself it would be calmer and better if there were no foreign troops stationed there at all. However, you say, you have some doubts—would not some harm be done to the population of West Berlin on the part of the GDR. Although we have repeatedly explained that the GDR does not and cannot have such aims, we are nevertheless ready to agree to stationing in West Berlin for some period of time, let us say for 3-5 years, symbolic contingents of troops of the UN or neutral countries.

All this, of course, is connected with the transformation of West Berlin into a free demilitarized city and with the simultaneous achievement of an agreement on final legalization and consolidation of the existing German borders and also on other questions which are well known to you and which you mention in your message.

Such an arrangement could then be fixed in a peace treaty with the German Democratic Republic (or in an annex to it), which will be concluded by the Soviet Union and a number of other states, if the Western powers have definitively decided that at the present time they will not take part in a German peaceful settlement.

Under an agreed solution of all these problems a part of which would be an agreement on the creation of an international organ on the access to West Berlin, such access through the territory of the GDR would be exercised on the basis of agreements, that is with the observance of usual regulations and formalities which are applied to the transit through the territory of sovereign states. We know that the GDR is ready to assume in an appropriate form the obligations providing for an unimpeded access to and from West Berlin. Should any complications or frictions in the exercise of a free access to West Berlin arise, the last word would be with the international organ—arbiter of which we have said above.

The international organ would include, first of all, the four powers—the USSR, the US, Britain and France. Thus the Soviet Union would act in capacity of a guarantor of a free and uninterrupted access to West Berlin to which, judging by everything, the Western powers attach particular importance. As to other possible participants of the international organ, this question could be solved later by the agreement of the parties.

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What is the advantage of a decision that I have just outlined? In a sense this is an alloy of the two positions—American and Soviet. On one hand, the Soviet Government, though it is not so simple for us, agrees to the creation of an international organ on access. On the other hand, an agreement will be reached—if the US is not ready yet to conclude a peace treaty with both German states—that with the conclusion by the Soviet Union and by a number of other states of a peace treaty with the GDR the situation in West Berlin is normalized on this basis by transforming it into a free demilitarized city in accordance with our mutual agreement, and other questions which you know are being solved. That would be a great victory for the cause of consolidating peace and easing tension.

This is a reasonable proposal and if we could reach an agreement on its basis it would help us to take off the existing heat in international relations. Our proposal is a concession to you. We do not want to create difficulties for you, Mr. President, and your country because in your country there are hot-heads; maybe there are some among your allies too. These questions are correctly understood in our country and by our allies. Let us leave the troops of the UN or neutral countries in a free city of West Berlin for 3-5 years to allow the nerves to cool down during this period of time and then the whole situation will look in a quite different light.

I hope that the thoughts, expressed by me, will allow us to concentrate our attention in the course of the talks on the main questions and to achieve a necessary progress in the nearest future.

It was my intention to dwell upon in this message only the German peace treaty. But in the meantime I was informed about the confidential conversation with your brother, Robert Kennedy.3

He said that since we had not achieved any progress on Berlin question, you, Mr. President, consider it necessary to make an effort to find the areas wherein the soonest achievement of an agreement with the Soviet Union is possible. And you, according to Mr.Robert Kennedy, think that such area is the disarmament problem and, first of all, the question of the nuclear test ban.

I would have understood such a position of yours, let us say, a few days ago. But, how, may I ask you, should we understand it now, when you have made a decision to resume nuclear weapon tests4 and especially on the eve of the conference where we are to deal with the disarmament questions. I have expressed my attitude towards your decision with full frankness in my message of March 3.5 What was said there may seem harsh to you, but had I given another evaluation of such a step by the US Government I would have been simply insincere.

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Your brother expressed the thought that our Ministers should discuss at Geneva the possibilities of an accommodation on the question of the nuclear test ban. As you already know from my recent message we have agreed that our Minister will participate in the work of 18 nation conference though I do not conceal that if you start series of nuclear explosions, it will certainly not increase chances for success in the Committee’s work. We, you and I, must look at the course of events realistically.

Your brother said that you, Mr. President, would like to have a summit meeting, which could be prepared in advance by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs or through diplomatic channels. I also would believe that such a meeting with you would be useful if an accommodation on a number of questions is reached before it by our Ministers, that is if the questions are prepared for their final discussion, approval and formalizing at the meeting of the Heads of State. I am always ready for such a meeting in order to ensure a necessary accommodation. When I am speaking about such a meeting at the highest level I believe that both our peoples are equally interested in it. After all, when the fate of the mankind is at stake, we as statesmen must use all the opportunities to justify the great trust placed upon us. It certainly happens sometimes that efforts of Ministers alone are not enough and then for the sake of success and in the interests of peace the heads of state and government have to join the effort.

Our new Ambassador, A.F. Dobrynin, will soon arrive in Washington. I recommend him to you and I am confident that he will represent the Soviet Union in your country well. He enjoys the full confidence of the Soviet Government and my full confidence. Whenever you need to convey something to me in a confidential way he will be able to transmit this to me personally.

I would like to thank you for your kind and warm words passed to me through A.I. Adzhubei and in my turn to wish you and your family success and good health.


N. Khrushchev
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. No classification marking. Another copy is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence.
  2. Document 34.
  3. Regarding this memorandum, see vol. XIV, pp. 859862.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. On March 2 President Kennedy had authorized the resumption of nuclear testing.
  6. Document 39.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.