162. Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy1

Dear Mr. President: At present I am on the shore of the Black Sea. When they write in the press that Khrushchev is resting on the Black Sea it may be said that this is correct and at the same time incorrect. This is indeed a wonderful place. As a former Naval officer you would surely appreciate the merits of these surroundings, the beauty of the sea and the grandeur of the Caucasian mountains. Under this bright Southern sun it is even somehow hard to believe that there still exist problems in the world which, due to lack of solutions, cast a sinister shadow on peaceful life, on the future of millions of people.

But as you will fully understand, I cannot at this time permit myself any relaxation. I am working, and here I work more fruitfully because my attention is not diverted to routine matters of which I have plenty, probably like you yourself do. Here I can concentrate on the main things.

I have given much thought of late to the development of international events since our meeting in Vienna, and I have decided to approach you with this letter. The whole world hopefully expected that our meeting and a frank exchange of views would have a soothing effect, would turn relations between our countries into the correct channel and promote the adoption of decisions which would give the peoples confidence that at last peace on earth will be secured. To my regret—and, I believe, to yours—this did not happen.

I listened with great interest to the account which our journalists Adjubei and Kharlamov gave of the meeting they had with you in Washington.2 They gave me many interesting details and I questioned them most thoroughly. You prepossessed them by your informality, modesty and frankness which are not to be found very often in men who occupy such a high position.

My thoughts have more than once returned to our meetings in Vienna. I remember you emphasized that you did not want to proceed towards war and favoured living in peace with our country while competing in the peaceful domain. And though subsequent events did not [Page 445] proceed in the way that could be desired, I thought it might be useful in a purely informal and personal way to approach you and share some of my ideas. If you do not agree with me you can consider that this letter did not exist while naturally I, for my part, will not use this correspondence in my public statements. After all only in confidential correspondence can you say what you think without a backward glance at the press, at the journalists.

As you see, I started out by describing the delights of the Black Sea coast, but then I nevertheless turned to politics. But that cannot be helped. They say that you sometimes cast politics out through the door but it climbs back through the window, particularly when the windows are open.

I have given careful thought to what you told our journalists in your personal talk with them and to the difficulties to which you referred. Of course, I fully understand that the questions which have now matured and require solution are not of the kind that easily lend themselves to solution. But they have a vitally important significance for our countries and for all the countries of the world. And therefore we cannot escape them. We cannot shift the burden of solving those questions on the shoulders of others. And who else but the leaders of the two most influential and mighty States—the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.—can the nations expect to work out solutions which could form the basis for the consolidation of peace. After your meeting with Adjubei and Kharlamov I was about to write you a letter right then and, I admit, even drafted one. However, your television address in July,3 unfortunately, made it impossible for me to send that letter. After that speech which, putting it bluntly, was belligerent in its nature, my letter would not have been understood by you since it completely differed in spirit, content and tone from what you said. After that we not only made speeches and exchanged statements but, unfortunately, also proceeded to an exchange of actions which will not, and indeed cannot, yield any moral satisfaction either to you as President of the United States or to me as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. Evidently both one side and the other are compelled to undertake their actions under the pressure of the various factors and conditions which exist and which—unless we exert a restraining influence—will propel the development of events in a direction in which you and I, and the more so the peoples of all countries, would not like them to be propelled. It would be most of all unwise from the standpoint of peace to enter into such a vicious circle when some would be responding with counter-measures to the measures of others, and vice versa. The whole world could bog down in such measures and counter-measures.

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Lately I have had not a few meetings with eminent statesmen and political leaders of Western countries. I have talked with Mr. Fanfani, the Prime Minister of Italy. I shall not describe that talk of which I suppose he, as a representative of a State allied with you, had informed you. Recently I had a conversation with the former Prime Minister of France Mr. Paul Reynaud. He raised a number of questions to which I frankly replied. After Paul Reynaud I received Mr. Spaak, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, who for a number of years was the Secretary General of NATO. I listened to him with attention and tried to reply to his questions as exhaustively as possible, to expound our position and explain how we consider it best to solve those questions. I must say that in my opinion understanding can be reached on those questions which were touched upon in my talk with Mr. Spaak. To this end it is only necessary that both sides should display equal interest in settling the problems at issue on a mutually acceptable basis.

The statesmen of many countries are presently displaying great concern for the destinies of peace, they are seriously troubled by the tense situation that has taken shape and they sincerely fear that some rash actions might bring the world to disaster and to the unleashing of nuclear war. These feelings are dear to me and I understand them because, like many Soviet people, I spent the war years at the front and lived through all the horrors of war. I am against war. The Soviet Government is against war. The peoples of the Soviet Union are against war. I say this to you because I believe that you—a direct participant in the battles of the last war—take the same position.

I should like in this connection to dwell upon some of the basic problems which now preoccupy the whole world since the future of mankind depends on their solution. It can be said that in the disarmament question which is the major question of our time there have now appeared certain gleams. I would like to see those gleams in the fact that we have reached agreement on submitting to the United Nations General Assembly a “Statement of Principles”4 as a joint proposal of the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. so that in subsequent negotiations a treaty on general and complete disarmament can be elaborated on its basis. Certainly it must not be forgotten that so far this is an agreement in regard to the principles of disarmament. This is as yet far from the achievement of the actual agreement on general and complete disarmament, and the more so this is not the practical start of such disarmament. But it is precisely the conclusion of such an agreement and its implementation within the shortest possible time that all the nations are expecting of us. For them and for all of us that would mean great joy.

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It is important to note that even understanding on the principles of disarmament which we have succeeded in reaching after protracted and intense effort and only after you came to the White House, is a good thing too. Naturally such understanding is not an end in itself. It must, so to say, be the harbinger, the first successful step on the road to general and complete disarmament. That is what we would like to hope.

If, Mr. President, you are striving towards that noble goal—and I believe that is the case—if agreement of the United States on the principles of disarmament is not merely a diplomatic or tactical manoeuvre, you will find complete understanding on our part and we shall stint no effort in order to find a common language and reach the required agreement together with you.

The Soviet Union, as you are well aware, has always advocated the prompt implementation of general and complete disarmament. The solution of that question would, in our profound conviction, radically promote the settlement of other major international problems as well. Our position in that respect is still unchanged.

But you will agree with me, Mr. President, that the present international situation and its tension can hardly be assessed as a simple arithmetical sum total of unsolved issues. After all, the series of measures and counter-measures aimed at strengthening the armaments of both sides which have already been put into effect by our Governments in connection with the aggravation of the German question cannot be disregarded. I do not want here to engage in an argument as to who is right or wrong in this matter. Let us leave this aside for the time being. The main thing is that events are unfortunately continuing to develop in the same unfavourable direction. Instead of confidence we are turning to an even greater aggravation. Far from bringing the possibility of agreement between us on disarmament closer, we are, on the contrary, worsening the situation still further. That is another important reason why the Soviet Union is now attaching such exclusive significance to the German question. We cannot escape the fact that there has been a Second World War and that the problems we have inherited from the last war—first and foremost the conclusion of a German peace treaty—require their solution.

History will not be reversed and West Berlin will not be moved to the other side of the Elbe. In that war the peoples of our two countries fought shoulder to shoulder. But if we fought together, we should indeed keep the peace together.

If you were to come to the Soviet Union now—and this incidentally is something I am hoping for—you would surely convince yourself that not a single Soviet citizen will ever reconcile himself to the peace, which was won at such great cost, being under constant threat. But that will be the case until the countries that participated in the war recognize and [Page 448] formalize the results of the war in a German peace treaty. Yes, that is what our people are demanding, and they are right. That is demanded by the Poles, that is demanded by the people of Czechoslovakia, that is demanded by other nations as well. They are right too. The position of the Soviet Union is shared by many. The impression is formed that understanding of the need to conclude a German peace treaty is growing in the world. I have already told you, Mr. President, that in striving for the conclusion of a German peace treaty we do not want somehow to prejudice the interests of the United States and their bloc allies. Neither are we interested in exacerbating the situation in connection with the conclusion of a German peace treaty. What need have we of such exacerbation? It is in the Western countries that they create all sorts of fears and allege that the socialist States intend well-nigh to swallow up West Berlin. You may believe my word, the word of the Soviet Government that neither we nor our allies need West Berlin.

I do not doubt that, given good will and desire, the Governments of our countries could find a common language in the question of a German peace treaty too. Naturally in the solution of that question it is necessary to proceed from the obvious fact, which even a blind man cannot fail to see, that there exist two sovereign German States.

I was gratified to familiarize myself with the statement which, according to press reports, was made by your representative in Berlin Mr. Clay on the need to recognize that there now actually exist two Germanies.5 It is impossible not to appreciate such a reasonable and sober pronouncement. I recall Senator Mansfield made some statements in the same spirit. All this warrants the hope that evidently the process has started of a quest for a solution of the German question on the basis of a realistic appraisal of the obtaining situation, a solution in which the Soviet Union and the United States of America must, above all, play their part. Naturally this solution must be such as not to inflict any harm to the prestige of one side or the other.

If we fail to agree on the conclusion of one peace treaty for both German States we also have at our disposal such a course as the drafting of two treaties which would be similar in content—one for the German Democratic Republic and the other for the Federal Republic of Germany. In that case the States that were parties to the anti-Hitler coalition would have the opportunity of signing one or two peace treaties depending on their choice. Such an approach would allow of circumventing the difficulties that appear owing to the fact that not all the possible [Page 449] participants in a peace settlement are ready to recognize both existing German States legally and establish diplomatic relations with them.

In any event the contracting parties could assume moral obligations to assist in the unification into one entity of both German States if the Germans so desire. It goes without saying that such obligations would find reflection in the peace treaty itself. As for the achievement of agreement on the unification of Germany, that is the concern of the Governments of the two German States. I believe such a solution would be reasonable and understandable for everyone. It would be understood by the German people as well.

In signing a German peace treaty the States that participated in the war will have to unconditionally recognize the presently constituted frontiers of the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany. Under the peace treaty those frontiers would be legally formalized, I stress legally, because de facto they already exist and cannot be changed without a war.

We cannot turn our back on the facts and fail to see that until the existing borders of Germany are finally formalized the sluice-gates which release the West German revanchard desires remain open. The followers of Hitler and his policy who, unfortunately, still exist in no small numbers in the Federal Republic of Germany are dreaming of the long-awaited day when, exploiting the lack of a post-war settlement, they will succeed in bringing about a collision between the U.S.S.R., the U.S. and the other former opponents of Hitlerite Germany. Why then should we leave any ground for the activities of those forces which are fraught with the threat of a world conflict? I would think that the legal formalization of the State borders which have taken shape after World War Two equally meets the interests of both the U.S.S.R. and the United States. Thus the borders that have taken shape and presently exist between the two German States would be formalized as well.

There remains the question of West Berlin which must also be solved when a German peace treaty is concluded. From whatever side we approach the matter, we probably will not be able to find a better solution than the transformation of West Berlin into a free city. And we shall proceed towards that goal. If, to our regret, the Western Powers will not wish to participate in a German peace settlement and the Soviet Union, together with the other countries that will be prepared to do so, has to sign a treaty with the German Democratic Republic we shall nonetheless provide a free city status for West Berlin.

Your statements, Mr. President, as well as the statements of other representatives of Western Powers not infrequently show signs of concern as to whether freedom for the population of West Berlin will be preserved, whether it will be able to live under the social and political system of its own choosing, whether West Berlin will be safeguarded [Page 450] against interference and outside pressure. I must say we see no difficulties in creating such conditions, the more so since the assurance of the freedom and complete independence of West Berlin is also our desire, is also our concern. I declare this on behalf of the Soviet Government, and on behalf of the socialist countries allied with us which are interested in the solution of the German question. I wish to emphasize in particular that the German Democratic Republic and the Head of that State Walter Ulbricht are of the same opinion. I say this with full knowledge and in all responsibility.

Voices can also be heard contending that it is not enough to codify in a German peace treaty the guarantees of the freedom and independence of West Berlin since—so it is said—there is no certainty that those guarantees will be honored. The statesmen and political leaders of the Western Powers with whom I have had occasion to meet, sometimes plainly expressed the wish that such guarantees should not only be given under a peace treaty but should also be specially reinforced by the Soviet Union.

Frankly speaking it is hard to understand what such apprehensions are based on. I am convinced that the guarantees established under a peace treaty will be honored and observed by all the States which will have signed the treaty. Furthermore the Soviet Union as a party to the German peace treaty will feel itself responsible for the fulfillment of all the clauses of that treaty, including the guarantees in respect to West Berlin.

But if it is the common desire that responsibility for the observance of the status of West Berlin should be entrusted to the Soviet Union we shall be ready to assume such a responsibility. I and my colleagues in the Government have not infrequently given thought to the way in which the role of the Soviet Union in guarantees for West Berlin could be implemented in practice. If we were simply to make a statement that the Soviet Union will in some special way guarantee the immunity of West Berlin, you will agree that this could prejudice the sovereign rights of the German Democratic Republic and the other countries parties to the peace treaty. In order to prevent that, in order not to prejudice the prestige of any State—whether your ally or ours—I believe the question should be solved in the way we have already proposed, namely that token contingents of troops of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union, the four great Powers which participated in the war against Hitlerite Germany, should be left in West Berlin. In my view that is the sole possibility. Naturally such a system should be introduced not for all time but for a specific period. Evidently an appropriate status for the deployment of the troops of the four Powers in West Berlin would then have to be devised which would be subject to the approval of the other countries signatories of the peace treaty.

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Given every desire, we could find no other solution which to any greater degree would strengthen confidence in the reliability of guarantees for West Berlin. If you have any ideas of your own on this score we are ready to consider them.

Of course, such alternatives are also conceivable as the deployment in West Berlin of troops from neutral countries or United Nations troops. I have repeatedly expressed and now reaffirm our agreement to such a solution. We also agree to the establishment of the United Nations Headquarters in West Berlin which would in that case become an international city.

It goes without saying that the occupation regime in West Berlin must be eliminated. Under the allied agreements occupation is a temporary measure and, indeed, never in history has there been a case of occupation becoming a permanent institution. But sixteen years have already elapsed since the surrender of Germany. For how long then is the occupation regime to be preserved?

A more stable status should be created for West Berlin than existed under the occupation. If the occupation regime has lived out its time and has become a source of strife among States it means the time has come to discard it. It has completely exhausted itself, has become a burden in relationships among nations and does not meet the interests of the population of West Berlin itself. The transformation of West Berlin into a free city will create a far more durable basis for its independent existence than the regime of occupation. Furthermore the grounds for collisions among States which are generated by the preservation of the occupation regime will disappear.

Of course, no one can be satisfied with half-measures which superficially would seem to erase from the surface differences among States while in effect they would be preserving them under cover and driving them in deeper. What use would there be if we barely covered up this delayed action landmine with earth and waited for it to explode. Indeed, no, the countries which are interested in consolidating peace must render that landmine completely harmless and tear it out of the heart of Europe.

The representatives of the United States sometimes declare that the American side is not advancing its concrete proposals on the German question because the Soviet Union allegedly is not striving for agreed solutions and wants to do everything by itself regardless of what other States may say. It is hard for me to judge how far such ideas really tell on the actions of the United States Government, but they are based on a profoundly mistaken assessment of the position of the Soviet Union. The United States Government can easily verify that, if it wishes to introduce its own constructive proposals at the negotiations on a peaceful settlement with Germany incorporating the question of West Berlin.

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I am closely following the meetings of our Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei A. Gromyko with the Secretary of State of the United States Mr. Dean Rusk. I do not know how you will react to this idea, but it seems to me that it would be useful to broaden contacts between our Governments on the German question. If the United States Government, like the Soviet Government, is searching for understanding and is ready to devise conditions for peace with Germany which would be acceptable for both sides and would not affect the interests or the prestige of any State I believe it could be arranged that you and I would appoint appropriate representatives for private meetings and talks. Those representatives would elaborate for us the contours of an agreement which we could discuss before coming to a peace conference where a decision on the question of a peace treaty with Germany will be taken.

Your wish, Mr. President, that perhaps our Ambassadors in Belgrade should be entrusted with an informal exchange of views, was communicated to me. In fact such meetings have already started. Unfortunately, however, I see from the dispatches of our Ambassador that they are spending too much time in, figuratively speaking, sniffing each other. If this goes on the business will not move forward, whereas it should be tackled with more energy.6

I have never met Mr. Kennan but, so far as I can judge by the press, he is, to my mind, a man with whom preparatory work could be done, and we would accordingly authorize our Ambassador. But evidently in that case our Ambassadors would have to be given firm instructions to start talks on concrete questions without needless procrastination and not merely indulge in tea-drinking, not walk round and about mooing at each other when they should talk on the substance.

The following alternative is also possible. You, let us say, could send someone in your confidence to Moscow under some plausible pretext and the necessary contacts could be established there. This method might possibly even expedite the solution of the questions. However, let the final choice be up to you. You might perhaps prefer to charge Mr. Thompson, your Ambassador in Moscow, with that mission. Personally I have had a number of conversations with him and he gives the impression of being a man who can represent you in dealing with the problems that face us. But naturally it is not for me to give you advise in such matters. Please excuse me for intruding in the sphere of questions which are entirely within your own personal competence.

The non-aligned countries addressed messages to you, Mr. President, and to myself. They suggested that we meet to discuss outstanding [Page 453] problems. You gave a positive reply to that appeal.7 We too reacted favourably to the initiative of the neutrals.

I believe a meeting between us could be useful and, given the desire of both sides, could culminate in the adoption of positive decisions. Naturally such a meeting would have to be well prepared through diplomatic or other confidential channels. And when preliminary understanding is reached, you and I could meet at any place in order to develop and formalize the results of such an understanding. This would undoubtedly be met with great satisfaction by all nations. They would see in that step an important contribution to the settlement of existing differences, to the consolidation of peace. The positive results of such a meeting would generate confidence that all issues can be solved peacefully by negotiation.

We are proposing that a German peace treaty be signed not only to eliminate the vestiges of World War Two, but also to clear the way for the elimination of the state of “cold war” which can at any moment bring our countries to the brink of a military collision. We want to clear the way for the strengthening of friendly relations with you and with all the countries of the world which espouse peaceful coexistence.

You, yourself, understand that we are a rich country, our expanse is boundless, our economy is on the upgrade, our culture and science are in their efflorescence. Acquaint yourself with the Program of our Party which determines our economic development for twenty years to come. This is indeed a grand and thrilling Program. What need have we of war? What need have we of acquisitions? And yet it is said that we want to seize West Berlin! It is ridiculous even to think of that. What would that give us? What would that change in the ratio of forces in the world arena? It gives nothing to anyone.

I often think how necessary it is for men who are vested with trust and great power to be inspired with the understanding of what seems to be an obvious truism, which is that we live on one planet and it is not in man’s power—at least in the foreseeable future—to change that. In a certain sense there is an analogy here—I like this comparison—with Noah’s Ark where both the “clean” and the “unclean” found sanctuary. But regardless of who lists himself with the “clean” and who is considered to be “unclean,” they are all equally interested in one thing and that is that the Ark should successfully continue its cruise. And we have no other alternative: either we should live in peace and cooperation so that the Ark maintains its buoyancy, or else it sinks. Therefore we must display concern for all of mankind, not to mention our own advantages, and find every possibility leading to peaceful solutions of problems.

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When I was already closing this letter I was given the text of your address before the United Nations General Assembly.8 It has long since become my habit, when reading statements by responsible statesmen, in the first instance to search for and find—even a grain at a time—ideas and propositions which could be useful for the building up of peaceful cooperation among States. Almost involuntarily you sift away all the accretions, all that has been said in a fit of temper, under the influence of unduly inflamed passions. If everything is replied to in the same vein such battles of words would have to be entered into that the voice of reason would be drowned out and the shoots of all that is good and hope-giving in relations among States would be nipped in the bud.

Of course, if one were to attune himself to an aggravation of relations between our countries, your speech before the Assembly could easily be evaluated as a challenge to an embittered dispute in the “cold war” spirit and no one could reproach us as being partial. That speech contains no few points in which homage is plainly felt to those who oppose the normalization of the international situation and seek to whip up a military psychosis by spreading all sorts of fables about the intentions of the Soviet Government and ascribing to it what does not even exist. Hence, evidently, the crude sallies tinted with ideological intolerance which are made against the social and public foundations of socialist society and which look to me, if the consolidation of peace is seriously contemplated, like a square peg in a round hole.

If you are fighting for the preservation of capitalism and consider it to be a more just society, we have our own opinion on that score. You speak of communism with disrespect, but I could reply in kind with regard to capitalism. But can we change each other’s mind in questions affecting our outlooks? No, to carry ideological differences into relations among States is tantamount to an out-of-hand renunciation of hopes of living in peace and friendship with each other and we should certainly not take that road.

We can argue, we can disagree with one another but weapons must not be brought into play. I recall our conversation in Vienna about peaceful coexistence. I trust you will remember it and agree now, as you agreed then, that the question of the choice of a social system is for the people of each country to decide. Each one of us submits to his own principles, his own system but this should not lead to a collision between our countries. Let us allow history to judge the advantages of this or that social system.

A few words on Laos.

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[Here follow 7 paragraphs on Laos.]

I am now working on the preparation of two reports which I shall deliver at the Congress of our Communist Party: a progress report and a report on the Program of the Party. Naturally, in those reports I cannot pass over such questions as disarmament and the German question. These are the major questions of the day because on their solution depends the course which relations between our countries take in their development, and consequently the course world events take: that is whether they will develop towards the consolidation of peace and cooperation among States or whether they will proceed in a different direction, a dangerous one for mankind. We want to find the solutions of both these questions, we want to clear the road for an improvement of relations between our countries, for the assurance of peaceful coexistence and peace on earth.

Please convey my best wishes to your wife. I wish you and your entire family good health.

I should like to believe that by joint effort we shall succeed in surmounting the existing difficulties and in making our contribution to the solution of the international problems which preoccupy the nations. And then together with you we shall be able to celebrate the successes achieved in the strengthening of peace, and this is something that the peoples of our countries, as well as all men on earth, are awaiting impatiently.

Accept my respects,

N. Khrushchev9
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163. No classification marking. For a description of the circumstances of the delivery of this letter on September 30, see Salinger, With Kennedy, pp. 197-200. A copy of the Russian text, dated September 28, also given to Salinger on that occasion, is in Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163. This is the first in a series of letters, delivered through special emissaries, that subsequently became known as the “Pen Pal Correspondence.” The texts of all the Kennedy-Khrushchev correspondence are printed in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume VI.
  2. An account of this meeting on June 26 is printed ibid., vol. V, Document 102.
  3. See Document 81.
  4. For text of the Statement of Principles, September 20 (U.N. doc. A/4879), see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 1091-1094.
  5. At a reception in his honor on September 22, Clay had stated that West Germany needed to accept the reality of two Germanies. For a report on his remarks, see The New York Times, September 22, 1961.
  6. Regarding Kennan’s conversations with his Soviet counterpart, see Document 137.
  7. See footnote 5, Document 143.
  8. For text of the President’s address, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 618-626.
  9. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.