121. Message from President Kennedy to Prime Minister Macmillan, April 61

[Facsimile Page 1]

David Gore and my people have worked through the Joint Statement and made a half-dozen minor changes, which seem to meet the special worries of both sides, without changing the basic thrust of the document. This will be coming to you through David, but for your convenience I send it along after this message by our private wire. I hope it will seem all right to you.

I feel some diffidence in commenting on your letter to Khrushchev, but if it is to be understood that the letter is fully agreeable to both of us, I should like to suggest the omission of the phrase “by on the spot inspection” in the next-to-last sentence. I also wonder whether we ought to go quite so far as to call it “a good chance” in the same sentence. Perhaps “a real chance?”

I think I ought to comment also on your helpful message of April 5, T183/62. If Khrushchev should change his tune on verification, I quite agree that it would give us new hope, and that we should work hard to see whether we cannot move from his new position to some workable agreement. But I do not think I could undertake to hold up our own tests on the ground of such a change alone. Neither do I believe [Facsimile Page 2] that his acceptance of inspection should lead us to give up our long-standing view that control posts on Soviet territory are needed for a really effective treaty. I shall certainly be willing to have this problem continuously and carefully reviewed, but in the light of the agreed position of our scientific experts, it does look to me as if the alternative were between control posts and a much expanded system of inspection. And as between these two, I believe even Khrushchev [Typeset Page 321] would prefer the control posts. I mention these matters only to avoid the possibility of a troublesome misunderstanding in the event of a forthcoming response from Khrushchev.

On the other hand, I quite agree with you that if Khrushchev merely asks for a Summit without accepting verification, then we should stand firm. If he accepts verification and then asks for a meeting, then I think we should look closely at the exact language and timing of his response and of the proposed Summit Meeting before we make a decision—but on the whole, at the moment I think this an unlikely result.

What concerns me, more generally, is that without significantly changing his real position, Khrushchev may try to give the impression of a reasonable attitude in these last days. It seems unlikely that he will sit still and let us pin the verification issue on him without attempting some maneuver. It seems to me essential therefore that our own [Facsimile Page 3] position be such that it plainly requires a real change and not merely an appearance of change on his part. Otherwise, it would be an easy matter for him to entangle us in another prolonged and unpoliced moratorium, to be broken at his will.

On balance, as we come down to the wire, my own belief is that we will probably have to go ahead with the current series of tests, which will evidently be followed or accompanied by further Soviet tests. Yet I also think that during and after these two sets of explosions there may be new chances for agreement on a test ban. Behind the problems of inspection and verification there are the still more difficult questions of the Chinese and the French, but I for one do not think of these next days as the very last in which we shall have a chance to work for progress in this field.

Thank you very much for your message to the Dowager Duchess, which I have delivered with pleasure. I find this new method of communication very helpful, and I am able to endure the suspicion it arouses among Ambassadors and State Department officials with equanimity and even pleasure.

John F. Kennedy
Joint Statement follows:
[Facsimile Page 4] [Typeset Page 322]


Joint US/UK Statement on Nuclear Testing

Discussions among ourselves and the Soviet Union about a treaty to ban nuclear tests have been going on in Geneva for nearly a month. The Soviet representatives have rejected international inspection or verification inside the Soviet Union to determine the nature of unexplained seismic events which might be nuclear tests.

This is a point of cardinal importance to the United States and the United Kingdom. From the very beginning of the negotiations on a nuclear Test Ban Treaty, they have made it clear that an essential element of such a treaty is an objective international system for assuring that a ban on nuclear tests is being observed by all parties. The need for such a system was clearly recognized in the report of the scientific experts which was the foundation of the Geneva negotiations. For nearly three years this need was accepted by the Soviet delegation at Geneva. There was disagreement about details, but the principle of objective international verification was accepted. It was embodied in the Treaty tabled by the United States and the United Kingdom on April 18, 1961, which provides for such a system. Since the current disarmament meetings began in Geneva, the United States and the United Kingdom have made further efforts to meet Soviet objections to the April 18 treaty. These efforts have met with no success as is clearly shown by the recent [Facsimile Page 5] statements of the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union and of their representative in Geneva, Mr. Zorin, who have repeatedly rejected the very concept of international verification. There has been no progress on this point in Geneva; the Soviet Union has refused to change its position.

The ground given seems to be that existing national detection systems can give adequate protection against clandestine tests. In the present state of scientific instrumentation, there are a great many cases in which we cannot distinguish between natural and artificial seismic disturbances—as opposed to recording the fact of a disturbance and locating its probable epicenter. A treaty therefore cannot be made effective unless adequate verification is included in it. For otherwise there would be no alternative, if an instrument reported an unexplained seismic occurrence on either side, between accepting the possibility of an evasion of the Treaty or its immediate denunciation. The opportunity for adequate verification is of the very essence of mutual confidence.

This principle has so far been rejected by the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, and there is no indication that he has not spoken with the full approval of his Government. We continue to hope that Chairman Khrushchev may reconsider the position and express his [Typeset Page 323] readiness to accept the principle of international verification. If he will do this, there is still time to reach agreement. But if there is no change in the present Soviet position, the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom must conclude that their efforts to obtain a workable treaty to ban nuclear tests are not now successful, and the test series scheduled for the latter part of this month will have to go forward.

  1. Thoughts on proposed statement and U.K. letter to Khrushchev. Attached is a draft U.S.–U.K. statement on nuclear testing. Top Secret. 6 pp. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Subjects Series, Nuclear Weapons, Joint U.S.–U.K. Statement on Nuclear Testing 4/10/62, 3/62–4/62.