The superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union was central to the foreign policy of the administration of President Kennedy, and the editors of the Foreign Relations series have recognized that centrality in the 25 printed volumes presenting the official record of U.S. foreign policy during the Kennedy years. The threat of Soviet expansion and subversion of areas and relationships vital to the security interests and well-being of the United States was the preeminent concern of the President and U.S. foreign policymakers. The perceived need to counter aggressive Soviet communism around the world dominated American foreign policy and dwarfed other issues.

Although mindful of how the Cold War overshadowed American foreign policy in the Kennedy period, the editors of the Foreign Relations series believe that the events and decisions comprising these relations are better understood in the particular regional or topical contexts rather than as part of a single continuum of U.S.-Soviet relations. The editors decided to maintain the long-standing structure of the series, which took account of the major geographical regions defining U.S. foreign policy and presented documentation that reflected American interests and involvements in those regions. The Foreign Relations subseries for the Kennedy years, 1961-1963, therefore seeks to reflect the emphatic preoccupation of policymakers with U.S.-Soviet relations around the globe, while retaining much of the geographical-topical structure of the series carried over from earlier subseries of volumes documenting the Eisenhower,Truman, and Roosevelt presidencies.

Eight of the 25 volumes (V, VI, VII, VIII, XI, XIV, XV, and XXIV) set forth the core documentation on the major aspects of U.S.-Soviet relations and conflicts: the basic bilateral relations highlighted by the summit meeting in June 1961, the exchanges of messages between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev, the efforts at arms control, the basic elements of national security policy, the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis, negotiations and plans arising from the threat of war over Berlin, and the threat of hostilities by Soviet-supported forces in Laos. U.S.-Soviet confrontation and competition are also important elements in other volumes that document U.S. policies toward Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, regional crises in South Asia, Yemen, and the Congo, and the deepening civil war in Vietnam.

In Volume V, Soviet Union, scheduled for publication in 1997, the editors sought to bring together the main strands of U.S.-Soviet relations during President Kennedy’s administration, but without printing there the complete record. The record of the major aspects and negotiations in U.S.-Soviet relations during the Kennedy administration as collected by [Page X] the editors of the Foreign Relations series totals nearly 3,000 documents. The essential detailed documentation on the major issues and crises in relations with the Soviet Union is presented in depth in the appropriate regional and topical volumes. Therefore, the high points in the record of the political skirmishes between the United States and the Soviet Union around the world and the evolution of strategic doctrines and arms control undertakings are identified or summarized in editorial notes in Volume V so that readers can recognize in one single volume the main lines of bilateral U.S.-Soviet relations as well as the broad range of linkages in the relationship.

Volume VI presents the complete correspondence between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev. It is important for an understanding of this critical phase in U.S.-Soviet relations that this correspondence be collected and published in one volume rather than being dispersed through six or more volumes of this Foreign Relations subseries where particular issues considered by the leaders are relevant. The exchange of correspondence obviously had its own internal coherence as well as periodically addressing one or another of the ongoing crisis issues between the two nations documented fully elsewhere in the series. The collected correspondence offers in one volume a comprehensive overview of major Cold War problems and possibilities.

The correspondence between these two leaders was unique in a number of ways. It gave rise to the first informal written exchange between Cold War leaders. Its existence as a reliable, direct, and quick channel of communications was instrumental in avoiding international catastrophe during the Cuban missile crisis. It was a key early contributor to the learning process that over several decades allowed leaders of the two nations to communicate with each other with growing mutual understanding and eventually trust. In the field of arms control, the exchange allowed President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev to haggle over the details of an arms control agreement; in later years that function was assumed by growing arms control bureaucracies and standing delegations. The correspondence also showed clear differences in the personalities and leadership styles of the two men, as well as the larger political cultures in which they worked.

This correspondence includes both formal and public exchanges as well as the more informal and very confidential exchanges, transmitted through special emissaries, which became known as the “pen pal” correspondence. The channel was intended to give the two men a chance to exchange ideas in a “purely informal and personal way,” as expressed by Chairman Khrushchev in his letter of September 29, 1961. Some of the informal messages were, however, made public immediately, sometimes before the recipient received them, but most of the messages were declassified only in later decades. The editors have indicated in the source footnotes [Page XI] if and when a communication was released to the public if that information was found.

The correspondence between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev presented the editors of the Foreign Relations series with special problems. All of the Khrushchev messages printed here are translations into English of the original Russian texts, but it was not always apparent where or by whom the translation was made. The editors have favored publishing the translations seen at the time by President Kennedy and his advisers and have attempted to identify the source of the original translation. Some of these texts were hastily translated and many contain inaccuracies or errors. The editors have in a few cases indicated a more accurate translation of words or phrases. The exception among these contemporary translations is Chairman Khrushchev’s message of April 1, 1963, unavailable in U.S. sources, which was obtained from the Russian Foreign Ministry in 1995 and translated in the Office of the Historian at that time. The editors have also identified, to the extent possible, the mode of transmission of the messages (whether delivered in Moscow to the U.S. Embassy or transmitted by Soviet authorities in Moscow to the Soviet Embassy in Washington for translation) to the President or one of his advisers.

Both the records gathered at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and those of the Department of State include collections of this correspondence between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev. None of these collections is complete. A few of the exchanges included here were not formal messages between the two leaders but were communications passed through “back channels” by Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin or other Soviet officials to other members of President Kennedy’s official family. Eight of the communications were oral messages of which a written record was made only after the fact. The editors made every effort to find and include here all messages that passed between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev, but considering the sometimes informal and indirect nature of the channel, there may be others. The final document in the volume is the message from the President’s widow to Chairman Khrushchev.

Portions of some of the messages exchanged between the President and the Chairman and printed in Volume VI are included in other volumes of the subseries. The editors have done so to ensure that users had immediate access to the relevant texts in the context of compilations regarding complicated negotiations or regional crises between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The editors shared their proposed collection of messages with the Russian Foreign Ministry in advance of publication, consulted with the Ministry regarding the completeness of the collection, and obtained several documents that were not found in U.S. sources. It was an example of [Page XII] cooperation without precedent in the history of the Foreign Relations series. The editors are grateful to the Foreign Ministry for its assistance in making this collection as complete as possible.