56. Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy0

I studied with interest your reply to my considerations forwarded through Ambassador Dobrynin on the question of cessation of nuclear weapon tests.1

It is said in your reply that a serious effort should be made to work out by January 1, 1963 an agreement on the question of cessation of nuclear weapon tests. Well, I can say quite definitely that we will not make you wait. The Soviet Union in the course of many years has been pressing for concluding an agreement on cessation of all nuclear weapon tests and we are prepared to make new efforts in this direction for the sake of achieving this aim.

The Soviet Government is convinced that national means of detecting nuclear explosions now at the disposal of the states are quite adequate to ensure strict control over the fulfillment by all states of their commitments with regard to cessation of nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water as well as underground. And the U.S. too recognizes this now with respect to three types of tests—in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water—and no longer insists on establishing international control over the cessation of these tests. Thus there seems to be no difference between us on this point any longer. There remains the question of underground tests. In the U.S. doubts are still being expressed as to the adequacy of national means for detecting underground tests. We do not have such doubts. Nevertheless [Page 153] we are prepared to use every opportunity to come to an agreement on this question on a mutually acceptable basis, on such a basis that would remove your doubts.

I do not know whether you have noticed a suggestion of British scientists Bullard and Penney put forward at the recent Pugwash conference of scientists2 concerning the use of automatic seismic stations working without any personnel. As we understood, the idea of this suggestion is that automatic seismic stations help with their records to determine what is the cause of this or that underground tremor—underground nuclear blasts or ordinary earthquakes. It would be a sort of mechanical control without men. After thinking this suggestion over we came to the conclusion that it can be accepted if this would make it easier to reach an agreement. In this case it could be provided in the treaty banning all nuclear weapon tests that automatic seismic stations be set up both near the borders of the nuclear states and 2-3 such stations directly on the territory of the states possessing nuclear weapons—in the areas most frequently subjected to earthquakes.

The Soviet Government agrees to this only because it seeks a mutually acceptable basis for an agreement. We do not intend to violate the commitment that we assume regarding cessation of tests but we also want to make you and the public opinion of the U.S. to feel confident that all sides will display an honest approach in fulfilling this commitment.

If you agree to this then we could without much difficulty come to an agreement on cessation of all nuclear weapon tests.

I would like to view as an encouraging sign the fact that the American scientists who took part in the Pugwash conference—and as I was told, very prominent ones—approved of the suggestion about the use of [Page 154] automatic seismic stations for the purposes of control. The Soviet scientists—participants in the Pugwash conference—also approved of this suggestion. So it appears that the scientists are already in agreement. Then there is a possibility to move ahead quickly. And as for us, we would like very much to put an end to all that and reach, at last, an agreement on cessation of nuclear tests of all kinds. There have been enough—both for us and for you—of experimental blasts carried out in the atmosphere and underground.

If we can come now to the conclusion of an agreement on cessation of all nuclear weapon tests we will make good for the peoples of our countries and for the peoples of the entire world.

We prefer to conclude now a treaty on cessation of all nuclear weapon tests. But if the Western powers are not yet prepared for that even taking into account the suggestions put forward at the Pugwash conference we, as I have already told you, are ready in this case also to make a step toward the Western powers and to conclude at this time a treaty on cessation of nuclear weapon tests in three environments: in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water.

It would be incorrect in doing that to leave open the question of underground nuclear tests. For it would create a false impression with the world public opinion, a kind of illusion, that an agreement on cessation of tests has seemingly been concluded and that the competition among states in perfecting nuclear arms in coming to an end whereas in fact this competition would continue. The weapons already created would be remodeled on the basis of new scientific data obtained as a result of experimental underground blasts, that is the states would replenish their arsenals with ever more perfect, ever more destructive types of nuclear weapons. With that we cannot agree. I must say frankly and openly that it is impossible to agree to conclude an agreement on the basis of tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water if the United States intends to continue underground nuclear explosions. Since in this case we too would face a necessity to carry out experimental nuclear weapon tests and we would conduct those tests, as we are doing now, in the atmosphere.

What is the way out? From our previous exchange of opinion you know how we propose to overcome this difficulty—to agree that after a treaty banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water is signed, negotiations on cessation of underground tests as well should be continued and while these suggestions are in progress and until the agreement is reached all nuclear powers should refrain from conducting such tests.

But some people in the West do not want even to hear about any commitment by the states to refrain from conducting nuclear tests. And on the part of some statesmen and in the American press assertions are [Page 155] made from time to time that the Soviet Union has allegedly violated some agreement on moratorium on nuclear tests. However those who make such statements have neither proof nor ground to support them.

And what are the facts? No international agreement on moratorium on underground or any other nuclear tests ever existed and nobody ever signed such an agreement. It can be reminded that as early as March 31, 1958 the Soviet Union unilaterally discontinued tests of all kinds of atomic and hydrogen weapons and called upon the Western powers to follow its example. But the U.S. and Britain responded then to that proposal of ours with an unprecedented in scope new series of tests of nuclear bombs. In subsequent period since the end of 1958 neither the United States or Britain nor the Soviet Union conducted nuclear weapon tests, but they acted so not because of any obligations coming from an international agreement but because of their own unilateral decisions. However, as early as December 29, 1959 your predecessor President Eisenhower clearly and definitely stated that the U.S. did not consider itself any longer bound by its statement that it had no intention to conduct nuclear tests. As for France—a NATO ally of the U.S. and Britain—it was even at that time conducting one nuclear explosion after another.

All this is perfectly known and he who nevertheless claims that the Soviet Union allegedly violated some moratorium on nuclear tests either has a short memory or simply seeks to torpedo the conclusion of an agreement on cessation of nuclear weapon tests.

I would like to note with satisfaction that now you seem to agree in principle that along with the conclusion of a treaty on the ban of nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water a moratorium with regard to underground explosions be accepted. If this is so, then it opens certain prospects.

You believe at the same time, as I have understood, that there should be no unlimited moratorium on underground tests. But we do not put the question that way. We do not propose to declare an unlimited moratorium on underground explosions. We suggest to declare such moratorium for a certain period of time, while the negotiations on banning underground tests of nuclear weapons are in progress. For how long those negotiations will go on—it is of course, impossible to say. But we do not think that much time is needed to conclude a final agreement on underground tests, provided, of course, that both sides display interest in reaching such an agreement promptly.

Anyway we are ready to agree on a term for the course of which the states will assume commitments not to conduct underground nuclear explosions, if an agreement banning nuclear tests only in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water is reached. We agree, for instance, on a 5-year term. And during the five years it will certainly be possible to agree on a final solution of the question of banning also underground nuclear [Page 156] explosions though, I repeat, I am convinced that it could be done much faster, especially if the idea of use for the purposes of control of automatic seismic stations is acceptable to you. During this period of time, one should assume, all American scientists too will get convinced that the national means of detection of nuclear explosions are quite adequate for assuring a foolproof control over cessation of nuclear tests, underground tests included.

If, however, even during that term an agreement is not reached—what to do in this case? Then the whole question of banning nuclear weapon tests will have to be reconsidered anew. And if the American side then insists on renewing underground nuclear tests, then—I want to say this already now and in plain terms—the Soviet Union will consider itself free from assumed obligations not to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water.

These are considerations which came to my mind in connection with your reply on the question of cessation of nuclear weapon tests. Giving you these considerations I think of nothing else but how to move from the dead point, and out of deadlock, the question of cessation of nuclear weapon tests.

If you being concerned about the same are in agreement with our considerations let me know and then the Soviet representatives in Geneva will at once be given instructions to get down together with your and British representatives to practical work of preparing a draft agreement.

One cannot doubt that an agreement on cessation of nuclear weapon tests would be greeted with tremendous joy by all mankind. The peoples wherever they live—in Europe or America, in Africa, Asia or Australia—desire peace, a lasting peace, they want an end to the nuclear arms race, they want the threat of nuclear war be eliminated.

During his meeting with Ambassador Dobrynin Robert Kennedy referring to you, Mr. President, confidentially touched upon the problem of Soviet-American relations. He said in particular that you are concerned with the worsening of these relations. We ourselves are very much upset about that but we would like to draw your attention to the fact that the aggravation of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States was not sown by us and it was not we who started it. We have sincerely sought and continue to seek to do everything for the normalization of our relations and not only for normalization but for their radical betterment. But that is being hindered by the hot-beds of international tension which are a source of constant friction between our countries. They should be removed and, first of all, the abnormal situation in West Berlin should be done away with.

I believe that you, Mr. President, like me realize that until a reasonable solution is reached on West Berlin this source will always make our [Page 157] relations feverish. And under present circumstances we do not see any other way out but to sign a German peace treaty. On this basis it would be possible with no loss to the prestige of either side to solve the problem of West Berlin too, to guarantee, as you say, the freedom of the population of West Berlin by stationing there for some not very long time a certain number of symbolic troops under the UN flag. It would seem, what can be more reasonable, if there is a desire to actually reach an agreement and eliminate the hot-beds that from time to time make our relations feverish and sometimes bring them to the red-hot glow.

If there is somebody who is interested in preserving those hot-beds then such interest stems from nothing else but a desire to prevent by all means the normalization of relations between the Soviet Union and the U.S. And I say straightforwardly that it is, of course, Adenauer who is interested in that in the first place. By no means he is motivated by good intentions. The Hitlerite Germany lost the war with all the ensuing consequences. Its plans to expand “Lebensraum” at the expense of other states ended in failure. This should be recognized once and for all. In fact, that is what the United States, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and other countries fought for against the Hitlerite Germany. Why then should you and we now reckon with the revanchist strivings of the FRG and even encourage them delaying indefinitely the conclusion of a German peace treaty and preserving the present indefinite situation, fraught with danger? After all it is the absence of a peace treaty that feeds the hopes of aggressive revanchist circles in West Germany for a possibility to revise the results of World War II.

Now in all countries there are more and more people who think of and are concerned with the destinies of the world and who seek not to let it escalate to war. They more and more clearly understand that it is impossible to postpone any further the conclusion of a German peace treaty and to preserve the present dangerous situation.

During my conversations on all those questions with your Ambassador Thompson I told him that we are ready to take into consideration the circumstances that you are finding yourself in in connection with preparation for congressional elections. Such, evidently, are “traditions” in the United States that in the course of election struggle they forget, carried away by passions, about common sense and begin playing with fire, competing in saying more and louder absurd things that sow danger of world war. In order not to play in such conditions a role of some third force breaking from outside into this struggle between the competing parties we decided to put the German problem, so to say, on ice until the end of the elections. We had in mind that after elections we would resume the dialogue. We were under the impression that we would meet an understanding on the part of the American side, all the more that on many questions relating to German peace settlement a certain rapprochement [Page 158] of our positions has already been achieved that gives hope for a possibility of an agreement.

The only question on which the difference between us still remains is, as we believe, that of the presence of foreign troops in West Berlin. And even not the question of the presence of troops as such because on that we have already made a step in your direction, but only the question—the troops of what countries will be stationed there. You insist that the occupation troops of the U.S., Britain and France continue to stay in West Berlin. But that would not normalize the situation even after the signing of a peace treaty because the main source of friction between our countries—the use of West Berlin under the cover of occupation regime as a NATO base—would remain unremoved. That is why we considered and continue to consider that the best thing under the circumstances would be to station in West Berlin the UN troops. To stabilize the situation in Europe it would be also reasonable to have both German states—the GDR and the FRG—admitted to the UN, so that they normalize at last relations between each other and with other states—members of the UN.

Such is our position. I stated it in detail to Ambassador Thompson who, evidently, informed you about it.

Recently I had a talk with your Secretary of the Interior Mr.S. Udall.3 He made a good impression on me. Our conversation was friendly. And I never expected that at the time I talked with him you would take a decision to request from the Congress an authority to call up 150.000 reservists. Motivating that step of yours you referred to the red-hot state of international atmosphere and to a necessity for you in that connection to react promptly to the dangers that may arise in any part of “the free world”. Everybody understands that when the President of the U.S. demands an increase in armed forces and explains that demand by an aggravation of the situation, it means that he considers that the situation is aggravated by the other side, that is by us, the Soviet Union. But we haven’t done anything that could give a pretext for that. We did not carry out any mobilization, and did not make any threats.

I must tell you straightforwardly, Mr. President, that your statement with threats against Cuba is just an inconceivable step. Under present circumstances, when there exist thermonuclear weapons, your request to the Congress for an authority to call up 150.000 reservists is not only a step making the atmosphere red-hot, it is already a dangerous sign that you want to pour oil in the flame, to extinguish that red-hot glow by mobilizing new military contingents. And that, naturally, forces the other side to respond in kind. What could it lead to, all the more that you consider that the U.S. has the right to attack Cuba whenever it wishes? But [Page 159] nowadays is not the Middle Ages, though even at the time it was considered brigandage, and measures were taken against such actions. And in our time such actions are absolutely unthinkable. That is what made us to come out with the TASS statement and later at the session of the UN General Assembly to qualify your act, to remind of the norms of international law and to say about West Berlin.

If there were no statement by you on Cuba, we, naturally, as Ambassador Thompson and Mr.Udall were told, would not say anything on West Berlin. Your statement forced us to do so.

We regret that this dangerous line is being continued in the United States now. What is going on, for example, in the U.S. Congress? How can one, for example, fail to notice the decision of the House of Representatives to stop giving U.S. aid to any country that trades with Cuba or whose ships are used for trading with Cuba. Isn’t that an act of an unpermissible arbitrariness against freedom of international trade, an act of crude interference into domestic affairs of other countries?

Very serious consequences may have the resolution adopted by the U.S. Senate on the Cuban question. The contents of that resolution gives ground to draw a conclusion that the U.S. is evidently ready to assume responsibility for unleashing thermonuclear war. We consider that if what is written in that resolution were actually carried out it would mean the beginning of war because no country can agree with such interpretation of rights, with such arbitrariness. Then there would be no U.N., everything would collapse and roll into abyss as it happened once when the League of Nations collapsed. Who wrecked it then? Japan and Hitler, who quit the League of Nations to untie their hands and start war. And they did start it. Could it be that the US wants to embark on such road?

We would greatly regret if it were so. We still do not lose hope that we will be able to normalize our relations. But this can be achieved only when the United States and its allies will strictly adhere to the generally recognized norms of international law and will not interfere into the domestic affairs of other states, will not threaten other countries. This is the main thing. And this is the coexistence of which we spoke more than once. You spoke of it too. But what kind of coexistence is this if the United States would attack countries whose government or socio-political system are not to its liking? In our time the world has split into two camps—capitalist and socialist: you have neighbours whom, as you say, you do not like while we have neighbours whom we do not like, but they are your friends and allies. How can one, especially under these circumstances, consider it to be one’s right to attack another country merely because its government and internal order are not to your liking? If we conduct such a policy, where this will lead to—to world war.

The most reasonable and the only right policy in our time if we want to ensure peace and to live in peace is the policy of coexistence. And coexistence [Page 160] is first of all recognizing for every people the right to choose its socio-political system and noninterference by states into internal affairs of others. This also directly follows from the U.N. Charter—the Charter which was adopted by our countries who, moreover, are the founding members of the U.N. To interfere into the internal affairs of other states means to undermine the very foundation on which the whole structure of the U.N. is based. One should not wreck the international building which has been created for the task of ensuring peace and peaceful coexistence.

On the state of Soviet-American relations I would also like to express some other considerations.

I spoke, for instance, to Ambassador Thompson of the buzzing of our ships by American planes. On what grounds this buzzing of the ships sailing in international waters is carried on? Moreover, U.S. Navy ships demand that our ship report to them where they go and what cargo they carry. One U.S. Navy ship even attempted to stop our vessel. I told then Mr.Thompson to convey to you, that we protest against this. Soviet ships which follow on the course given to them by the Government have instructions not to yield to any pirate demands in international waters and to proceed on their course even if they are threatened with opening fire. I said then and I repeat—let them try to stop and sink our ships—this will be the beginning of war because we will answer in kind. We have enough of submarines which can defend the honor of the motherland. Our state possesses other means too. You also have similar means. Why then should such provocations be staged, why should we threaten each other?

I was pleased to receive from you, Mr. President, your assurance that you had given strict instructions not to allow buzzing of our ships. But whether you know it or not the assurance you gave me is not being kept. Your planes even now go on buzzing our ships. I can tell you: in August there were 140 cases of such buzzing.

It has just become known that the Puerto-Rican but actually American authorities detained a British ship and arrested the Soviet cargo aboard that ship—sugar that we have bought in Cuba. If such arbitrariness is not stopped, you yourself realize what it can lead to.

Another unpleasant incident took place in connection with which we had to officially and publicly protest—an intrusion into our air space of a U-2 reconnaissance plane in the area of Sakhalia. You explained that it happened by incident. We took this explanation with understanding. Now it is clear that it did not happen by incident because a U-2 plane also appeared over China. Whom does it belong to? They say—to Chiang Kai-shek. But what is Chiang Kai-shek?Chiang Kai-shek is an affiliate of the U.S.Chiang Kai-shek could not purchase the planes because he himself [Page 161] is on the payroll of the U.S. Therefore those were also the actions of the United States.

Evidently, the same line appears in this case showing that the U.S. has taken a dangerous course. This makes us apprehensive and we are now compelled to take appropriate measures. We did not carry out mobilization and we do not think of one but we have been compelled to order our armed forces to be in peak combat readiness. You forced us to do that by your mobilization and by other measures that you have taken recently.

It may be that all this is being done in connection with pre-election situation in your country. But this is very dangerous. This already goes beyond the limits of the situation within one country because such actions make the international situation red-hot, create a dangerous situation which cannot but cause deep anxiety on the part of the peoples of all countries for the destinies of peace.

It is not pleasant for me, Mr. President, to tell you about it. It would be better, of course, to talk about more pleasant things. But nothing can be done—my position obliges me to give due appraisal of those actions which are now being taken by the United States. We cannot close our eyes and pretend that we do not notice it or do not understand it.

Therefore I would ask you to correctly understand our anxiety and not to do anything that could further aggravate the atmosphere and even expose the world. We on our part again say to you that we will do nothing with regard to West Berlin until the elections in the U.S. After the elections, apparently in the second half of November, it would be necessary in our opinion to continue the dialogue. Of great importance for finding the ways to solve both this problem and other pressing international problems are personal contacts of statesmen on the highest level. I think that if we, persons entrusted with great confidence and bearing enormous responsibility, constantly feel this responsibility, we will have to come to the realization of the necessity of reaching an agreement on West Berlin to eliminate this dangerous hot-bed which spoils our relations all the time.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163. No classification marking.Kennedy’s response of October 8 (Document 58) indicates this message was dated September 28 although no date appears on the source text. Other copies are ibid.: Lot 66 D 204, and in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence.
  2. Documents 55 and 53.
  3. Reference is to Sir Edward Bullard and Sir William Penney and the 10th Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs held in London September 3-7.
  4. Reported in telegram 616 from Moscow, September 7; for text, see volume V.
  5. Printed from an unsigned copy.