98. Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy0

Dear Mr. President: I have with interest acquainted myself with your message of April 11.1 If my impression is correct as to its principal [Page 272] motive, namely to seek out new possibilities for the cooperation of our countries in the resolution of questions which are ripe for settlement, then it is fully responsive to my thoughts. I, like you, consider as formerly that it is extremely important to us to understand each other clearly in order to avoid unnecessary dangers or obstacles to progress in the achievement of peaceful agreements. Everything which proceeds to the advantage of mutual understanding and trust between our countries and between us personally will always meet on my part a most favorable response.

My colleagues and I frequently ponder over how relations are developing between our two countries. Yes, and could it be otherwise if by virtue of the position occupied by the USSR and the USA on earth, Soviet-American relations had become a political meridian of their own sort from which one as a matter of fact takes a reading of prognoses and hopes for the peaceful future of peoples. Probably I shall be close to your frame of mind if I say that the crisis in the region of the Caribbean Sea has given many people a new stimulus for reflection on this account.

In fact not so long ago both you and I were in the ranks of allied armies acting against the aggressors. These times come to memory not because, as they say, the words of the song do not leave you but because we rightfully prided ourselves on the fact that the Soviet and American peoples each in their own way wrote their words in the general hymn of victory over Hitlerite Germany and militarist Japan. No, I mentally return to that tragic and at the same time heroic period because it clearly demonstrated the possibility of the establishment between the Soviet Union and the USA of such relations as when their mutual interests decidedly outweigh the differences of views on the remainder. Unfortunately, shortly after the war relations between our countries were upset and rolled down an inclined plane.

We did not wish to accept such a position and undertook practical efforts in order to find some sort of general basis which would permit a return to relations between our countries in a better direction. In proposals following this aim, we appealed both to you and your predecessors in the Office of President and here we were talking about a wide circle of international questions: disarmament, security in Europe, direct Soviet-American relations and many other things. Now, one way or another it must be recognized that the track in which relations between our countries found themselves under Franklin Roosevelt, now remains empty. We refuse to believe that the sole path which remained for the two mightiest powers was a slide along that inclined plane from one international crisis to another still more dangerous one. There is another perspective: given the mutual desire of the parties—and as for us we say “Yes”—it is possible to raise our countries to the highway of peaceful, mutually beneficial cooperation. I think you share my certainty that such [Page 273] a beneficial turning-point in Soviet-American relations, and government officials who knew how to bring it about, would be applauded not only by Soviet and American peoples but by all to whom peace on our planet is dear.

Therefore, we have not abandoned hope that the Government of the USA irrespective of all difference of world outlook and way of life, will together with us work for the creation of conditions for peaceful, I underline peaceful, competition in the course of which each social system, each country, would demonstrate its possibilities for the satisfaction of the requirements of the people.

The entire foreign political activity of the Soviet Government is subordinate to the service of peace and peaceful co-existence. It is precisely from these positions that we approach the international questions touched upon in your message.

The question of the cessation of nuclear testing is touched upon in your message. As you doubtless know, we have long considered that our Western partners are still far from having traversed their part of the distance to the desired finish—the conclusion of an agreement.

We have now received from you and Prime Minister Macmillan new proposals on this question.2 Inasmuch as you and the Prime Minister are addressing yourselves to us together and inasmuch as some time is required to study these proposals, I shall not specially dwell here on the question of the cessation of testing and shall write you and the Prime Minister separately.3 I shall only say that for its part the Soviet Government has done and will do everything in order in the shortest possible time to approach the final act, which would crown the efforts of many years, to agree on the conclusion of an agreement on the cessation of testing of nuclear weapons.

Here I shall dwell on a question which, although to a certain extent also touches on the cessation of nuclear testing, has itself acquired increasing significance and urgency particularly now in connection with various plans for the creation of nuclear forces of NATO. I have in mind the task which by the will of history has been placed first of all before our countries; to act so that nuclear armaments even before general and complete disarmament should remain walled up in the arsenals of those powers which already possess, them and in order that it would be possible not to fear that sometime the doors of the nuclear club will be broken and we shall hear the triumphant exclamation, shall we say, in the German language, “I am already here!” You of course know well the point of view of the Soviet Government concerning the non-dissemination of nuclear [Page 274] weapons. In brief it consists in this, that if it is not possible immediately to agree on the destruction of such weapons, then at least anticipating this it is necessary not to permit their further dissemination. And seriously if a dam is properly constructed which would not permit a flood of nuclear weapons then the first duty of the builders is to concern themselves that no single crack or outlet canals remain; otherwise all the construction loses its meaning. The proposal of the Soviet Government to conclude an international agreement which on the one hand would contain the requirement of the atomic powers not to transfer any form of nuclear weapons—directly or indirectly including via military alliances to those states which do not possess them—and on the other hand the obligations of other powers not to manufacture or to acquire such weapons serves precisely this purpose.4 In other words, we are talking here about new states not acquiring or utilizing nuclear weapons in any form.

I note with satisfaction that in your message you confirm that the USA is decisively against the development of additional national nuclear potentials. At the same time you, now as formerly, attempt to convince me that neither the multinational nor multilateral nuclear forces being planned for NATO will increase the danger of the spreading of nuclear weapons and that the Soviet Government can rely on the continuing and decisive opposition of the USA to the dissemination of national nuclear forces. Obviously, some sort of gradual acquiring of, or partial participation in, the control of nuclear armaments in your view is better than an appearance of new national nuclear forces.

But you will agree, Mr. President, that no matter what crack appears, opening the way to atomic weapons, be it only the size of a little finger, it makes no difference; once such a crack exists there will be found fingers which in this fashion will find their way to the control panels of these weapons. I do not speak of the fact that for states tempted by military adventurism and revengism, the degree of acquisition thus received would appear only a temporary step toward the putting forward of further demands which in the final analysis would lead to the unleashing of new nuclear potential which, as you write, the USA seeks to avoid. It seems that this is clear to everyone who looks on all of these things not only from the positions of NATO. The question arises naturally why place yourself before the choice between what is bad and that which is still worse? Would it not be better to cast aside both the bad and the still worse variant and choose the good?

We rapidly believe that the Government of the USA will strive to arrange it so that the multinational and multilateral nuclear forces of NATO, no matter how their creation comes out in practice could never be [Page 275] used without the Government of the USA. But one way or another states which are included in the nuclear pool of NATO, including the FRG, will have a vote there and will participate in the formulation of opinions and, as a consequence, of the final decisions concerning the utilization of nuclear armaments. Indeed, we all witnessed the fact that in NATO the voice of Western Germany is increasingly listened to although everything indicates that at least some members of this bloc not without suspicion look upon the foreign policy of that state remembering the past and knowing from personal experience the habits of the German militarists.

It is also no less clear that if there were concluded a genuine agreement which left no loopholes concerning the non-dissemination of nuclear weapons, then in these conditions neither Western Germany nor anyone else would dare go against the collective will of the participants in that agreement since in that case they would appear in a most unfavorable light before all the world and would be subjected, it may be said, to the moral ostracism of all mankind.

Naturally we will set forward separately in greater detail our views concerning the draft declaration about the non-dissemination of nuclear weapons which the Secretary of State, D. Rusk, recently handed Ambassador A.F. Dobrynin.5 But it is already possible to say that unfortunately this draft does not bring us any closer to the achievement of agreement. It is impossible not to note that it contains in reality the same positions which formerly deprived us of the possibility of coming to mutual understanding. This particularly relates to the possibility of permitting access to Western Germany of nuclear weapons on which as a practical matter the American draft is based. No one can expect the agreement of the Government of the Soviet Union to the growth of nuclear fangs by the West German Bundeswehr. I believe you will understand that from our point of view the realization of any plans for the creation of collective nuclear forces cannot but shake the ground under the achievement of international agreement concerning the non-dissemination of nuclear weapons in which the USA should be interested no less than the Soviet Union.

Already for a protracted period, in the exchange of opinions between us no matter in what channels they took place, one and the same question has inevitably arisen—concerning the situation around Cuba. To a considerable degree this is understandable if one considers how we passed through a most dangerous crisis in the fall of last year. But it is impossible not to recognize also that tension around Cuba decreases too slowly and at times rises anew not unlike the way the mercury jumps in the thermometers of the present spring.

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And of course when one thinks about where the abnormalities are coming from which are making the atmosphere in the region of the Caribbean Sea ever more feverish, one comes to the conclusion that a one-sided approach can least of all help the situation.

If one allows that in the Western Hemisphere uneasiness is evoked by the presence in Cuba of a certain small number of Soviet troops which are helping Cubans to master the weapons delivered by the Soviet Union for the purpose of strengthening the defense capabilities of Cuba, then how much more uneasiness should be evoked in the countries of Europe, Asia and Africa by the hundreds of thousands of American troops in the Eastern Hemisphere? It is sufficient to make such a comparison in order that things can be seen in proper perspective. At our meetings in Vienna we seemed to have agreed to proceed from the fact that the forces of our states were equal. Well, then, if our forces are equal, then there should also be equal possibilities. Why does the United States forget about this?

You know that we have withdrawn from Cuba a significant part of our military personnel. I can tell you that we have withdrawn several times more people than has been stated in the American press. How this matter will develop in the future depends on a number of circumstances and in the first place on the pace at which the atmosphere in the region of the Caribbean Sea will be normalized, and whether, as could be expected, the reasons which occasioned the necessity for assistance to the Cubans by Soviet military specialists and instructors will disappear.

I would like to express the thought of how important it is in evaluating what is happening around Cuba that one rise above one-sided understandings and base his judgments on the respective estimate of the situation of the interested parties. From your point of view, as set forth in your message, the reconnaissance flights of American aircraft over Cuba are only “peaceful observation.” But if one were to characterize these flights objectively, without even considering the point of view, understandable to everyone, of the country over which they are being carried out, then they cannot be described other than as an unrestrained intrusion into the air space of a sovereign government and as a flagrant violation of the elementary norms of international law and the principles of the UN Charter, to which are affixed the signatures of both the USA and Cuba. It is natural that no state prizing its sovereignty, no government solicitous of the interest and dignity of its people, can tolerate such flights.

Perhaps it is desired that we recognize the right of the USA to violate the Charter of the United Nations and international norms? But this we cannot do and will not do.

We have honestly carried out the obligations we assumed in the settlement of the crisis in the region of the Caribbean Sea, and withdrew from Cuba even more than we promised to withdraw. There are no [Page 277] grounds for you to doubt the readiness of the Soviet Union to carry out firmly in the future as well the agreement which was reached between us. Why then are reconnaissance flights by American aircraft over Cuba necessary? What are they looking for there when there is not a single thing, seen in the light of the agreement reached, which could cause concern? Trampling on sovereignty in this way can lead to quite serious consequences for us if it is not stopped in time.

And can one pass over in silence or recognize as in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter the continuing efforts to strangle the economy of Cuba? I shall not address myself to this in more detail although of course I could find many words with which to characterize these actions, even from a purely humanitarian point of view.

The Soviet Union gives due credit to the measures which have recently been undertaken by the USA, as well as by England, in connection with the attacks which have taken place on Soviet vessels near the Cuban coast. We of course do not underestimate the significance of these measures and hope that they will be sufficiently effective to preclude the possibility of a repetition of armed raids against Cuba.

I read with a feeling of satisfaction that passage of your message in which you confirm that you have neither the intention nor the desire to invade Cuba and where you recognize that it is up to Cuban people to determine their fate. That is a good statement. We have always stressed that, like any other people, the Cuban people possess the inalienable right to determine their own fate as they see fit.

A few words about Laos, since you touched on this subject in your message. Certainly the events which have taken place during the past weeks in that country give rise to some concern. Especially alarming is the murder of the Minister of Foreign Affairs K. Pholsena. The life has been cut short of a statesman whose signature was put on the Geneva Agreements on Laos, whose name, together with that of Souvanna Phouma, personified a policy of neutrality for Laos. There are also other facts which show that in that little country great passions continue to boil, leading on occasion to dangerous flare-ups.

There is much to indicate that forces are raising their heads there which also before were resisting the development of the country along the path of peace, independence and neutrality, and information is constantly reaching us indicating that this is taking place with certain outside help. I examined this matter long and carefully in order to see whether this was true and came to the conclusion that the proverb “where there is smoke there is fire” was applicable to the present situation.

It appears to us that the United States can exert appropriate influence so as to prevent dangerous complications in Laos, which are necessary neither to you nor to us.

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As you obviously know, we are at the present time carrying on consultation with the British co-chairman of the Geneva Agreement.

There is no need for me to say that the Soviet Government as formerly is holding firmly to the course of supporting a neutral and independent Laos, which was agreed upon in our meeting in Vienna. We are doing everything that depends on us in order to maintain peace and quiet in that country. If the USA also follows this course firmly, and we think that this should be the case, then it would seem that we can look at the situation in Laos without excessive pessimism.

I received your message dealing with the situation in Laos which you authorized Mr.Harriman to give me.6 He and I exchanged views on this question, and he obviously will report our conversation in detail to you. Therefore I will limit myself in the present message to what I have said above.

I agree with you that we have before us also other questions and problems aside from those mentioned in your message. In the first instance, I would mention the conclusion of a German peace treaty and normalization of the situation in West Berlin on that basis. The solution of this problem, and given mutual desire that is not now such a difficult matter, would undoubtedly bear the greatest returns both from the standpoint of the interest of consolidating peace and for a serious improvement in Soviet-American relations. As long as the remnants of the Second World War, which constantly make themselves known continue to exist, then both you and we will be forced to devote ever greater funds to armaments, that is to increasing our ability to destroy each other. And understandably in such a situation it is difficult to count on agreement on disarmament, which requires above all faith and still more faith for its attainment. Therefore, if one realistically evaluates the situation, one cannot but come to the conclusion that the conclusion of a German peace treaty would create better conditions also for the resolution of the question of questions of the modern day—universal and complete disarmament.

I like the proposition you have made concerning a trip to Moscow of your duly authorized personal representative with whom it would be possible to discuss unofficially and frankly problems of interest to both of us. Please be assured that your envoy will receive a good reception in Moscow and complete readiness on the part of the Soviet Government and me personally for a confidential and productive exchange of views.

As concerns the choice of time for your duly authorized personal representative to arrive in Moscow, I am inclined to think, after examining the list of undertakings, in part also of a domestic nature, which demand [Page 279] my participation, that probably the most appropriate period for this meeting would be 10 to 12 June, if of course that is acceptable to you.7

Thank you for your warm personal greetings to me and to my family. Please accept my cordial greetings. I request you as well to convey my warm greeting to your wife and to all those near you.8

  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163. Secret; Eyes Only. This letter, which bears the notation “informal translation,” was handed to Thompson by Dobrynin on April 29. Four short memoranda of their conversations at that time are in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Dobrynin Talks.
  2. Document 95.
  3. See Document 96.
  4. Document 99.
  5. For text of the Soviet note to the United States, April 8, in which this proposal was made, see Documents on Disarmament, 1963, pp. 161-170.
  6. A memorandum of Rusk’s conversation on April 12 is in Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330.
  7. See Document 97 and footnote 1 thereto.
  8. See Documents 100 and 101.
  9. Printed from an unsigned copy.