31. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Meeting Between The President and Chairman Khrushchev in Vienna


  • US
    • The President
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Bohlen
    • Ambassador Thompson
    • EUR—Mr. Kohler
    • D—Mr. Akalovsky, (interpreting)
  • USSR
    • Chairman Khrushchev
    • Foreign Minister Gromyko
    • Mr. Dobrynin, Chief, American Countries Division, USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Ambassador Menshikov
    • Mr. Sukhodrev, Interpreter, USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs

[Here follows discussion of Laos.]

Mr. Khrushchev then addressed himself to the question of nuclear weapon tests. He said he would not go into any details because the positions of the two sides were well known. Furthermore, he was not familiar with all the details of this intricate problem. However, there were two basic questions: (1) the number of suspicious events to be inspected and (2) organization of control. The Soviet Union cannot accept such controls as have been suggested so far. The events in the Congo taught the Soviet Union a lesson. Before those events the Soviet Union might have signed a treaty like the one suggested. However, the events in the Congo indicated that the UN appears to be able to act against the interests of individual states. The Congo had invited UN troops and those troops acted against the interests of the Congolese Government. So if there is a single chairman of the control commission (Mr. Khrushchev was obviously referring to the administrator) he will be able to set the policy. The US would not agree to having a Communist chairman and that is understandable. If it did then the Soviet Union could accept a single chairman (administrator). But the Soviet Union cannot accept a neutral chairman; after all, Hammarskjold is also a neutral and an intelligent one at that. He is not the worst neutral possible. One should try to imagine a situation, Mr. Khrushchev said, where he, as Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, would have to subject his actions to such a commission (administrator). The people of the Soviet Union would never accept such a situation and if the United States wants him to be fired then it should pursue this line. [Page 87] The Soviet Union does not seek control over the control organization but it does not wish the United States to have such control either. This is why the USSR has proposed a three-man body. Such an arrangement would not be prejudicial to any of the sides. Mr. Khrushchev said that he believed that the work of other international organizations should be organized along the same lines. He said that the United States was now in the majority in the UN, but times may change—one cannot say when—and the US may find itself in a minority. The UN is not a parliament, it is an international organization and the majority rule has no place there. Each group of countries should be equally represented, so that a balance of forces be established and that no one be able to pursue a policy prejudicial to any other side. Referring to the number of inspections, Mr. Khrushchev said that three inspections a year would be sufficient. A larger number would be tantamount to intelligence, something the Soviet Union cannot accept. Mr. Khrushchev then said that he wanted to link the question of nuclear tests with disarmament. If agreement could be reached on disarmament, then the USSR could agree to any controls and it would then drop the troika arrangement and the requirement for unanimity. The Soviet position on disarmament is well known; it was stated at the UN and the USSR still proceeds on that basis. Under the conditions of general and complete disarmament control must be most extensive so that no country could arm itself clandestinely. If there were general and complete disarmament there would be no question of espionage because there would be no armaments. Then there would be no secrets and all doors must be open so that complete verification could be ensured. This would include nuclear plants. In view of the fact that apparently no agreement can be reached on the question of nuclear tests, this question should be linked to disarmament. The disarmament group should combine the two questions and work out a general plan. Given good will, two years should be sufficient to develop an agreement on general and complete disarmament. Mr. Khrushchev said that he could give the President an aide-mémoire setting forth the Soviet position on this question. (The aide-mémoire was received from the Soviets after the meeting.)1

The President said that he wanted to ask Mr. Khrushchev whether he believed it to be impossible to find any person that would be neutral both to the US and the USSR.

Mr. Khrushchev replied in the affirmative.

The President then said that the result of the Soviet proposal could be compared to a situation where if he were living in this room and Mr. Khrushchev in the adjacent room, they could not go to each other’s rooms without the consent of the occupant. Under such conditions, how [Page 88] could any of the two be certain that nothing suspicious is going on in his neighbor’s room. The President then said that a treaty along such lines could not be confirmed by the Senate. In sending any treaty to the Senate the President would have to give assurance that the treaty provides if not for a fool-proof control system, at least for a reasonable deterrent against violations. However, if the Soviet proposal were accepted, no such assurance could be given. Likewise, how could Mr. Khrushchev give such assurance to those people in his country who may think that the United States is testing clandestinely. True, Mr. Khrushchev is in an advantageous position because of the open way in which the United States acts.

Mr. Khrushchev smiled and said: “But what about Allen Dulles? Isn’t that secret?” The President replied he wished it were. Furthermore, the President continued, how can we inspect events in the Soviet Union if any such inspection would be subject to Soviet approval? Under such an arrangement any party that might have tested clandestinely would simply refuse to accept inspection in the area where the test had occurred.

Mr. Khrushchev referred to his statement about three inspections a year to verify suspicious events and also noted that the President had failed to address himself to his statement regarding the dropping of the troika proposal if nuclear tests were linked with disarmament. If this arrangement were adopted, then full control could be exercised any time and at any place. Mr. Khrushchev went on to say that a nuclear test ban alone would not be very important to the national security of the people. The danger of war would remain, because the production of nuclear energy, rockets, and bombs would continue full blast. What people want is peace. Therefore, agreement should be reached on general and complete disarmament. Then the troika would be dropped and the USSR would subscribe to any controls developed by the US, even without looking at the document.

The President said that he agreed that a nuclear test ban would not of itself lessen the number of nuclear weapons possessed by the USSR and the US. Nor would it reduce the production of such weapons. However, a test ban would make development of nuclear weapons by other countries less likely, although, of course, no one can guess what will happen in the future. At this time, the United States and the USSR possess great stocks of nuclear weapons; Great Britain possesses certain quantities of such weapons and France is also getting some capability. If we fail to reach agreement on a nuclear test ban then other countries will undoubtedly launch a nuclear weapons program. While a nuclear test ban would be no certain guarantee against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, it would certainly impede such proliferation. If no agreement is reached, then in a few years there might be ten or even fifteen nuclear powers. So in considering this question of what Mr. Khrushchev calls espionage one should balance its risks against the risks involved in the [Page 89] proliferation of nuclear weapons. If we are successful in reaching agreement on a nuclear test ban then it will certainly at least put a brake on the spread of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Khrushchev agreed that there was some logic in the President’s position and said that this was why the Soviet Union had entered the negotiations. However, practice has demonstrated that this logic is not quite correct because while the three powers are negotiating in Geneva, France simply spits at them and goes on testing. Thus if there is no link between a nuclear test ban and disarmament other countries may say that they are in an unequal position and might act like France. Other countries may say that if the great powers possess stockpiles of nuclear weapons they should also acquire such stockpiles. On the other hand, if there were disarmament, then nuclear weapons would be eliminated and other countries would be in an equal position and would not have to spend money on the development of nuclear weapons. General and complete disarmament is the most radical means of preventing war. The Soviet Union has always regarded the question of a nuclear test ban merely as a small step toward general and complete disarmament. But let us now begin with the main issue and include the test ban in it.

The President said he agreed that a test ban would not be a basic part, but it would be a most important part. He said that the treaty as drafted now provides for abrogation of the treaty if any country associated with any party to the treaty should conduct tests. The United States does not support French testing. We hope that once a treaty has been concluded most other countries will join in it. The question of a nuclear test ban is a relatively easy problem to resolve because the controls required are based on scientific instrumentation, such as seismographs, etc. So why not start with this relatively easy question. The President then inquired whether the Soviet conception was that if we used the term general and complete disarmament—or general and comprehensive disarmament as used by us last year—the process would be carried out step by step with the necessary parallel inspection. Or is it the Soviet view that we would simply announce that goal as an objective of national policy and countries would carry out inspection on their own.

Mr. Khrushchev replied he wanted to make a complaint: The President apparently had not read the Soviet proposals with sufficient attention. Otherwise, he would know that the Soviet proposals provide for disarmament in stages and for control in stages.

The President then inquired whether this was to be understood that, if both sides accepted general and complete disarmament and agreed to reduce their armed forces, the number of their aircraft or submarines, or to disarm outer space, the Soviet Union would accept inspection any place in the USSR.

Mr. Khrushchev replied in the affirmative, using the word “absolutely”.

[Page 90]

In other words, the President inquired further, if general and complete disarmament were accepted as a commitment of national policy and a nuclear test ban were included in the first stage, would that mean that the test ban would be subject to inspection without a veto?

Mr. Khrushchev replied that in that event he would try to persuade the President not to start with this measure because it is not the most important one.

In response to the President’s question what should come first, Mr. Khrushchev replied that any other measure would be acceptable, such as, for instance prohibition of nuclear weapons, prohibition of the manufacture of such weapons, or elimination of military and missile bases. (At this point Mr. Gromyko corrected the interpreter saying that Mr. Khrushchev had not mentioned prohibition of the manufacture of nuclear weapons. However, Mr. Khrushchev confirmed that he had mentioned this item.) The Soviet proposals on disarmament contain all the details and there is logic in those proposals. The proposals also provide for complete control. In any event, both sides should try to reach agreement on the priority of individual measures so that neither side would have its interests prejudiced by the other.

The President said that Mr. Khrushchev appeared to feel that a link should be established between a nuclear test ban and disarmament and that these two questions are inter-related and should be discussed together. We, on the other hand, believe that a nuclear test ban would be if not the most important step, at least a very significant step and would facilitate a disarmament agreement. There is a Chinese proverb saying that a thousand-mile journey begins with one step. So let us make that step.

Mr. Khrushchev rejoined by saying that the President apparently knew the Chinese very well but that he too knew them quite well. To this the President replied that Mr. Khrushchev might get to know them even better. Mr. Khrushchev retorted that he already knew them very well.

Referring to the President’s statement about the significance of a nuclear test ban, Mr. Khrushchev said that the USSR could agree to a nuclear test ban provided it was subject to the troika arrangement.

The President then said that it appeared to him that the conversation was back where it had started. Therefore, he wanted to conclude this discussion by saying that the United States is greatly concerned by the uninspected moratorium that has been going on for three years in connection with the negotiations. This indicates how long it takes to reach agreements. The prospect of an indefinite continuance of a moratorium without controls is a matter of great concern to the United States. Therefore, it is difficult to envisage how the question of nuclear tests could be included in disarmament negotiations, which we hope will be successful but which will probably require a long time. Perhaps it would be best to [Page 91] go back to Geneva to make another effort and to see what each of us should do in this matter. Perhaps then the conference might be recessed or some other action taken. Whether or not there is agreement on nuclear tests we would start our discussions on disarmament on June 19.

Mr. Khrushchev replied that he was agreeable to conducting negotiations in Geneva and said that there was a Soviet representative there. However, the Soviet Union could not accept such controls as would be tantamount to espionage if weapons themselves were not eliminated. This, in effect, is what the Pentagon has wanted all along. Eisenhower’s open skies proposal in 1955 was a part of that scheme. Now ground posts are envisaged and this is also reconnaissance. The Soviet Union has agreed to negotiate on a nuclear test ban in the hope of reaching agreement and proceeding to general and complete disarmament. If the US refuses to accept general and complete disarmament then the Soviet Union cannot agree to accept such an arrangement. The Soviet Union cannot accept a situation where controls would prejudice its national security and where the Soviet Government would be subject to the will of a third party and would not be free to act on its own.

The President said that it was obvious that if controls should turn out to be prejudicial to the national interest of any of the parties to an unreasonable degree, the treaty could be abrogated. The President reiterated that we would begin our discussions on disarmament on June 19, which will be in effect a continuation of the discussions Mr. Gromyko and Mr. Stevenson had had in New York.

Mr. Khrushchev inquired whether the President would agree to tie together the question of the test ban and disarmament.

The President replied that he would not unless there was assurance that agreement on disarmament could be reached speedily. He referred to the fact that negotiations on a nuclear test ban had been in process for three years. The President emphasized that the problem of espionage mentioned by Mr. Khrushchev paled if compared with the problems which would result from the development of nuclear capabilities by other countries. This is bound to affect the national security of our two countries, and increase the danger of major conflicts.

Mr. Khrushchev said that if we agreed on general and complete disarmament that problem would not only pale but would completely disappear.

[Here follows discussion of Germany and Berlin.]2

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Talks, Vol. I (President). Secret. Drafted by Akalovsky. The meeting was held at the Soviet Embassy. The full text of this memorandum of conversation is printed in vol. V, Document 62.
  2. Dated June 4; for text, see Department of State Bulletin, July 3, 1961, pp. 22-24, and Documents on Disarmament, 1961, pp. 162-166.
  3. Following this meeting, Khrushchev gave a lunch for the President at the Embassy. During the lunch, Khrushchev “said he had heard pressure was being brought to bear on the President to resume nuclear weapon tests. He said that he was under a similar pressure; however, the USSR will wait for the US to resume testing and if the US does resume the USSR will follow suit.” (Memorandum of conversation by Akalovsky; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Talks, Vol. I (President))