156. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Call of Yugoslav Ambassador on the President, April 18, 1963, 5:00 p.m.


  • The President
  • Mr. Richard H. Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of State
  • Mr. William J. Barnsdale, Officer in Charge Yugoslav Affairs, Department of State
  • Mr. Veljko Micunovic, Yugoslav Ambassador
  • Dr. Josip Presburger, Counselor, Yugoslav Embassy

Ambassador Micunovic thanked the President for the early appointment. He reported to the President that during his consultation in Belgrade from March 13 to April 14 he had met with President Tito and other leaders of the Yugoslav Government, and had brought with him to Washington a personal message from Tito to the President. The Ambassador pointed out that the Serbo-Croatian text of the letter was the original and that the English translation accompanying it should be considered an unofficial translation.

The President read the message from Tito, thanked the Ambassador and said he would respond to the letter. He expressed his appreciation for Tito’s remarks. The President said we are going ahead with our efforts to amend the most-favored-nation legislation [Section 231 of the Trade Expansion Act]1 but noted that the Ambassador was aware of the legislative difficulties. Our efforts to amend the legislation offers an opportunity for some members of Congress to be unhelpful. We will know later what our legislative chances are.

The President also said he was gratified that on the basis of Tito’s trip to the Soviet Union the Yugoslav President feels that the Soviet leadership wants peace. The President pointed out that we want peace too. We are moving ahead on these matters. We are working hard on the non-diffusion of atomic weapons, for example, and the situation is more normal in the Caribbean.

The President then asked Ambassador Micunovic for his opinion on the possibilities for a resolution of the Sino-Soviet dispute. How would such a resolution affect Yugoslavia?

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The Ambassador replied that it is difficult to see what realistic possibilities there are for a resolution of Sino-Soviet difficulties. Efforts have been made to ease Sino-Soviet tension and some alleviation is possible, but the basic differences will remain. The Ambassador also agreed with the President that it was difficult to see how good relations could exist on all sides of the Sino-Soviet-Yugoslav triangle.

The President asked if Tito would visit Mexico and the Ambassador replied in the affirmative. The Ambassador said invitations had been received also from Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile and that it is expected that Tito will visit all of these countries in the autumn. The Ambassador noted that in the Yugoslav view the visit of the Mexican President was very successful. The Yugoslavs were very pleased.

The President asked the Ambassador for his assessment of current difficulties within the USSR, noting that although Tito had been there, his visit was several months ago. The Ambassador replied by noting that for quite a number of years the Yugoslavs had attempted to improve their relations with the USSR on the basis of the Yugoslav policy of independence and non-alignment. The Ambassador had tried to further these Yugoslav efforts when several years ago he was his country’s ambassador in Moscow, but he had not been successful. However, significant changes have taken place in the USSR. There is evolution everywhere, and the evolutionary developments in the Soviet Union made it possible for Tito’s recent visit to be successful. But as a result of these changes in the Soviet Union the Sino-Soviet conflict has grown as well. Yugoslavia as a socialist country is vitally interested in these developments and wishes to support progressive evolutionary tendencies everywhere—the Yugoslavs support negotiated settlements on the basis of mutual concessions and peace.

In that respect Chairman Khrushchev’s speech of 12 December, delivered in the presence of President Tito, went as far as the Soviets had ever gone before in advocating these progressive evolutionary tendencies. The Ambassador expressed his understanding, therefore, of President Tito’s sincere belief that Khrushchev is interested in peace and negotiated settlements. At the moment Khrushchev’s words have become “harder”, but his intent remains the same as during Tito’s visit.

The President asked the Ambassador for his view on the pressures on Khrushchev from Stalinists and others within the Kremlin.

The Ambassador saw the pressures on Khrushchev as falling into two categories. First, there is Khrushchev’s lack of success in achieving significant accomplishments vis-à-vis the West. Second, Communist Chinese positions have been strengthened as a result of the cold war. In the absence of success on either of these fronts the pressure on Khrushchev is great.

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There was great hope in Yugoslavia that when Khrushchev accepted the principle of on-site inspection that an agreement between the Soviets and the US would follow. There had been hope also that after the Soviet [rocket] withdrawal from Cuba there would be some lessening of Cuban problems in and outside the US. The Yugoslavs had hoped that some gains for Khrushchev on the second front [vis-à-vis the Chinese] would occur. There had been some disappointment in Yugoslavia that these positive developments had not produced more significant results.

The President concurred that there had been no spectacular agreements. On the other hand we have a situation which is not war, which is less tense, and which is not as dangerous as last fall or during the fall of 1961. The very lack of greater danger is a form of success. Agreements themselves are not always so satisfactory. We have an agreement on Laos but we do not have a satisfactory situation there.

The President assured the Ambassador again that he would respond to Tito, and he expressed a desire to see good relations with Yugoslavia. The President said good relations between the US and Yugoslavia contribute to stability in that area, and he hoped that Yugoslav influence in other areas such as Africa and the Middle East will be in the right direction. The President expressed the hope that our bilateral problems, in particular MFN and sales of military spare parts, will be resolved. He said he appreciated President Tito’s letter, and also the courtesies the Yugoslavs have extended to our Ambassador in Belgrade.

Ambassador Micunovic associated himself with the President’s hope for a solution to our particular problems, and said that beyond this goal, the Yugoslavs also hoped to build a firm basis for a continued expansion of good relations with the US. He wished to assure the President, in closing the discussion, that Yugoslav policies would remain non-aligned and independent, as stressed in President Tito’s letter.

The Ambassador then informed the President that he had been instructed to invite Secretary Rusk to visit Yugoslavia and hoped that it was not inappropriate to so inform the President before he saw the Secretary tomorrow.

The President expressed his confidence that the Secretary of State would be pleased to receive an invitation and a visit would be a good thing.

There follows an unofficial English translation of the letter dated April 7, 1963, from President Tito as provided by Ambassador Micunovic on April 18, 1963, and a copy of the original Serbo-Croatian text.

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Letter From President Tito to President Kennedy

Dear Mr. President: I avail myself of the opportunity offered to me by the return of our Ambassador, Mr. Veljko Micunovic, to Washington, in order to address you this message and to set forth my views on certain current aspects of our mutual relations, in the belief that this can be beneficial to future relations between our two countries.

Certain difficulties have arisen in our relations in the past year and have caused concern to the Yugoslav Government. All the more so as the relations between Yugoslavia and the United States were acquiring the character of an even more positive tradition and, within this context, were also providing an encouraging example of successful co-existence and friendly co-operation among countries with different social and political systems. In our view, this positive tradition was built by mutual efforts and in the mutual interest over a number of years and it successfully weathered the periods when the general pattern of international relations was not always the most propitious. We are convinced, for our part, that there exist both a need and conditions for a further successful development of such relations.

This view of ours is based on the principles by which the foreign policy of Yugoslavia is guided. The post-war period and the experiences gained by the peoples and the Government of Yugoslavia during this time have strengthened our belief that the policy best suited to our country is that of co-operation with all States on the basis of independence, equal rights and non-interference in internal affairs and mutual respect. We are convinced that our independent and non-aligned policy has proved to be not only the best suited to our national interests but Yugoslavia has thus also done its utmost to promote general international cooperation, peace and progress in the world. If we glance today at the rather long and arduous road that we have traversed during this period and at the results we have achieved, we have sufficient reason for remaining firmly convinced as to the correctness of such a policy.

Last year’s new Trade Act, which deprived Yugoslavia of the most-favoured-nation treatment, existing between our two countries for almost a century, has in our view opened the way, in the United States, to the aforementioned difficulties. This has been also followed by other negative manifestations resulting, in one way or another, in a further [Page 345] narrowing of the framework of mutual co-operation. At certain moments, in the past, uncertainty concerning Yugoslavia’s future policy has been expressed by the American side. Here in Yugoslavia, too, a similar feeling of uncertainty has appeared as to the future policy of the United States towards us. My associates and I, departing from the belief that occurrences harmful to the interests of the two countries and contrary to the intentions of both Governments were involved, have endeavoured not to allow matters to be dramatised as often happens under similar circumstances.

I am certain, Mr. President, that it is in the interest of Yugoslavia and, I believe, also in the interest of the United States that the Governments of our countries should do all that is indispensable in order to check this process of weakening and deterioration of our relations, to prevent the further weakening of what has been achieved by our common efforts in the course of the past years. The peoples and the Government of Yugoslavia have appreciated every effort exerted by your Government to that end. I have learnt with particular pleasure the news of the step that you personally undertook recently in the United States Congress with a view to restoring normal terms of trade between Yugoslavia and the United States. We believe that the results of your positive initiative will not only favourably affect further relations between our countries in the field of trade but also that the whole matter has a broader political significance. I feel, as I have already told your Ambassador Mr. George F. Kennan on several occasions, that it is possible to further expand our economic relations on a commercial and business basis and that these relations will be placed, in this way, on more realistic and stable foundations.

In my opinion a great part of difficulties in co-operation among States, especially among those holding different views on major international problems, is also due to insufficient mutual acquaintance and understanding. Thus, for instance, we are under the impression that Yugoslavia’s policy concerning some current issues is not always correctly understood in your country and that some people interpret it sometimes as being directed against the United States. I do not wish to exclude that in our country, too, there is sometimes a similar lack of sufficient understanding.

I wish to point out that our views of principle on these and similar questions proceed from the assumption that our relations with individual countries should not develop to the detriment of relations with third countries, as this would directly undermine the foundations on which the general principles of international co-operation should be based. On the contrary, we are convinced that the improvement of our relations with an ever broader circle of countries can only contribute to the strengthening of international understanding and co-operation in general. [Page 346] We feel that the improvement of our relations with the USSR and the majority of socialist countries, which has taken place recently, serves the same end. I can tell you, Mr. President, that I have convinced myself, on the occasion of my last visit to the Soviet Union also, that the Soviet leadership and the Prime Minister N.S. Khrushchev are profoundly interested in the preservation of world peace and that they wish to pursue a policy of negotiations and peaceful co-existence. In our opinion all this deserves special attention, especially at a time when various efforts—which are being exerted in the world with a view to easing international tensions and in which the activities and relations between your and the Soviet Government play such an important role—are, it seems to me, nevertheless producing some initial positive results.

In conclusion, Mr. President, I wish to emphasise our belief that the obstacles which have made their appearance in the relations between our two countries will be overcome by our mutual endeavours and that our relations, placed on a sound and realistic basis, can and will develop to the mutual benefit and to the benefit of international co-operation and world peace.

Wishing you, Mr. President, and the people of the United States all the best, I beg you to accept the assurances of my high consideration.

Josip Broz Tito3
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 66 D 149. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Barnsdale and approved in the White House on April 23.
  2. All brackets in the source text.
  3. Limited Official Use. The source text is labeled “Unofficial Translation.” The Serbo-Croatian text is not printed.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.