268. Memorandum From the Ambassador at Large (Thompson) to Secretary of State Rusk0

SUBJECT

  • Letter to the President from the Prime Minister, dated March 16, 19631

I cannot help but be very suspicious of the Prime Minister’s letter. His letter was written the day the British, American, and Soviet scientists were meeting in London,2 and I wonder if the British did not have an approach similar to the one made to Kistiakowsky.3 Moreover, although Macmillan proposes a meeting solely on the test ban, he cannot but be aware of the effect which such a meeting would have on de Gaulle and Adenauer.

I suggest that in reply, the President should express the opinion that the timing is wrong and point out that Mr. Khrushchev appears to be having both internal problems and a bitter quarrel with the Chicoms, which is coming to a head, both of which factors make it unlikely that he would, at this time, be disposed to make the necessary concessions.

The Chinese angle can, of course, be argued both ways. On the one hand, Khrushchev’s strategy appears to be to put the blame for any break upon the Chinese, and his agreement to a test ban would spoil that strategy. On the other hand, it could be argued that a test ban agreement [Page 658]would prove that it is possible to reach meaningful agreements with the West.4 In view of the importance to Khrushchev of the Chinese problem, and his repeated statements that a test ban is not disarmament and therefore not really of great importance, I think his struggle with the Chinese would take precedence in his mind.

I suggest the President could point out that we may get some reading of Soviet intentions from the Berlin talks which start next week, and from the proposals which the eight non-aligned countries are preparing to put forward in Geneva. Khrushchev’s primary interest in a test ban relates to Communist China and West Germany. If he anticipates a break with Red China, as now appears to be the case, and if he really thinks as he professes to do that the West Germans are on the way to getting an atomic capability either through the Franco-German Treaty or the multilateral force, there is little reason for him to pay the price of inspection for something which would not meet his principal objectives.

Although Macmillan does not actually suggest that he go to Moscow himself, it seems to me that the letter is designed either to bring this possibility to the President’s mind or prepare the way for a subsequent proposal on his part to do just that.

While I can see considerable advantage to a meeting between the President and Khrushchev by way of clearing up misunderstandings, in view of the slight prospects of success on any one subject and the further strain which such a meeting is likely to put upon the Alliance, I think a meeting at this time would be most unwise.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL UK-US. Top Secret. Also addressed to Under Secretary Ball.
  2. See Document 267.
  3. Reference is to a group of U.S., Soviet, and U.K. scientists who met in London March 16-18 under the auspices of the Pugwash Continuing Committee to discuss nuclear testing. Three of the U.S. attendees and several Soviet and British participants signed a statement indicating that because of marked progress in methods for identifying underground nuclear tests and the narrowing of differences on the number of on-site inspections, the issues were no longer technical but political. (Telegram 3604 from London, March 18; Department of State, Central Files, DEF 18) Another U.S. scientist, Frank Press, dissented from the statement in a March 20 letter to the three U.S. signatories. (Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA/EX/RIC/R Files: FRC 77 A 10, Conferences, Pugwash (COSWA)) Additional documentation on this London meeting is ibid.
  4. In the left margin opposite the second clause of this sentence is the following handwritten notation by Rusk: “Yes tell LET[hompson] DR”. A note from Emory Swank (S/S) to Thompson, March 22, attached to the source text, calls this notation to Thompson’s attention. The approach to George Kistiakowsky presumably refers to a message the Soviet physicist L. Artsimovich gave to Kistiakowsky in London to convey to U.S. authorities. (Kistiakowsky had earlier served as President Eisenhower’s science adviser.) In a March 25 memorandum to Fisher, Goodby wrote in part: “we were treating the message with caution and with reserve, but we were taking it seriously and were acting on the assumption that the message might indeed foreshadow a change in official Soviet policy.” (Ibid.) The message has not been further identified.
  5. A handwritten notation in the margin next to the sentence, presumably by Secretary Rusk, reads: “none”.