107. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Vienna Meeting Between the President and Chairman Khrushchev


  • US
    • The President
    • D—Mr. Akalovsky (Interpreting)
  • USSR
    • Chairman Khrushchev
    • Mr. Sukhodrev, Interpreter, USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs

After lunch the President invited Mr. Khrushchev for a short walk in the garden.1 While in the garden, the President asked Mr. Khrushchev [Page 226] how he managed to make himself available for such prolonged conversations as, for example, he had had with Senator Humphrey and Walter Lippmann. The President said he understood that no one had interrupted the Chairman during those meetings. As far as he was concerned, the President continued, his schedule was very crowded and he was constantly wanted on the telephone, so that it was very difficult for him to have time for lengthy uninterrupted meetings.

Mr. Khrushchev replied that it was true that he had indeed had prolonged uninterrupted meetings with Senator Humphrey and Lippmann. The reason why he had time for such meetings was that the Soviet Government had been decentralized to the extent that administrative functions had been transferred to the governments of the individual republics, while the government of the Union retained the responsibility for over-all planning.

The President remarked that our system of several branches of government involved contacts and consultations between the President and the various branches, and that this was a time consuming process.

To this, Mr. Khrushchev replied: “Well, why don’t you switch to our system?”

The President then invited Mr. Khrushchev for a private talk inside.

The President referred to the conversation before lunch2 and said that some of the problems faced by the two countries had been discussed. Now he wanted to come back to the general thesis. While Laos was one problem now under discussion, others might come up in the future. Thus, it would be useful to discuss the general problem underlying the situation and consider the specifics perhaps later. In addition to Laos, which had already been discussed, such specifics might include Germany and nuclear tests.

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]

Mr. Khrushchev then addressed himself to the Laotian situation and said that the President knew very well that it had been the US Government which had overthrown Souvanna Phouma. One should be frank and recognize that both the United States and the USSR are supplying arms in Laos. The side supported by the USSR will be more successful because the arms supplied by the United States are directed against the people and the people do not want to take them. In China, the arms supplied by the United States to Chiang Kai Shek went to Mao Tse Tung. Chiang Kai Shek became sort of a transfer point for American arms to Mao Tse Tung. The reason for that was that Chiang’s troops [Page 227] simply would not fight against the people. At that point Mao Tse Tung was weaker militarily than Chiang Kai Shek, but he won because his ideas won. In general, the history of revolutions is very instructive. During the Russian Revolution, the revolutionaries were weak and a counter-revolution occurred. The revolutionaries had to fight against the counter-revolutionaries, the British, the Japanese, the French, and others. Even the United States intervened. Mr. Khrushchev recalled in this connection that he had read a book by an American Colonel entitled “U.S. Adventure in Siberia”. Notwithstanding all this, the revolution was victorious because the people were on its side. Mr. Khrushchev then said that we must be patient. If the United States supports old, moribund, reactionary regimes, then a precedent of internal intervention will be set, which might cause a clash between our two countries. The USSR certainly does not desire such a development.

The President rejoined by saying that he wished to explain the logic of what Mr. Khrushchev considered to be the illogical point in US position. He said that he wanted to do this not in order to defend any of our actions, but simply to explain things as we saw them. The President stated that we regard the present balance of power between Sino-Soviet forces and the forces of the United States and Western Europe as being more or less in balance. The President said that he did not wish to discuss the details of the respective military postures, but that generally this was how we saw the situation.

Mr. Khrushchev interjected that he agreed with this.

The President then said that the United States has three interests. The first interest is that the right of free choice be ensured to all peoples and that such right be executed through elections as we understand them. He said that Mr. Khrushchev may not agree with this but this is what we desire. Such free choice is not possible today in many areas of the world. It is not possible in Cuba, it is not possible in Spain. Mr. Khrushchev had said that he could not understand how the US could object to Cuba while it was supporting Spain. The reason is that our second interest is of a strategic nature. Spain has no allies. It is a power standing alone. It is a dictatorship, but it makes no contribution to our strength.

Mr. Khrushchev interjected that the US had bases in Spain. The President replied that those bases were moving into history. Mr. Khrushchev observed that they were still there.

The President continued by saying that we also support Yugoslavia, which is not a capitalist country. Thus, the question might arise how the logic of our policy could be justified. The reason for this policy is that if Franco should be replaced and if the new regime were to associate itself with the Soviet Union, the balance of power in Western Europe would radically change and this is, of course, a matter of great concern to us. The third interest of the United States is to see that the next [Page 228] decade—and we cannot predict which way the developments during that time will go—should proceed in a way that would not greatly disturb the balance of power. The President said that he was concerned how this balance of power might be affected as China developed its military potential. This is our general view with which Mr. Khrushchev will not agree, but this is the logic of our position. Referring to the Laotian question, the President said that this was of particular concern to us. While relatively unimportant from the strategic standpoint, this country was included under the protocol to the SEATO agreement in the Treaty area, and thus we have treaty commitments in that area. The President then said that speaking frankly, US policy in that region had not always been wise. He stated that he had not been able to make a final judgment as to what the people’s desires in that area are. According to our information, there are about nine or ten thousand Pathet Lao but they have two distinct advantages in our view. One is that they are for change. The President remarked that he himself is for change and that he had been elected on the basis of his advocacy of change. He then said that was not to say that if a change were to occur in Laos it would be the one the people wanted. The second advantage Pathet Lao has is the fact that they received support not only in the form of supplies, but also in the form of Viet Minh manpower, which has made them a stronger force. The problem now from a historical standpoint is to find a solution not involving the prestige or the interests of our two countries. The President recalled that last March he had said that the United States wanted a neutral and independent Laos. The USSR had said it wanted the same. The question now is of definition of these two terms, “neutral” and “independent”. The President said that he believed that Cambodia and Burma were neutral and independent countries and inquired what Mr. Khrushchev’s view on this was.

Mr. Khrushchev said that he held the same view.

The President continued by saying that the problem in Geneva was how to secure a cease fire in Laos and to establish a mechanism for its verification. The point is that the Soviet side had stated that forces associated with us had taken action against Pathet Lao. For our part, we have information that forces supported by the Soviet Union have violated the cease fire, particularly in the Padong area. Therefore, the ICC should undertake to determine the exact situation and if it were to find that the forces supported by the US are at fault, the US would take the responsibility. If we support the ICC in making such a determination, then the next step would be to create a neutral and independent Laos.

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]

The President then stated that what was of concern to the United States was the speech Mr. Khrushchev had made last January and in which he had advanced the thesis of three types of war. The problem is [Page 229] how this thesis should be interpreted, particularly the point on the so-called national wars of liberation. The fact is that certain groups seize power, frequently by military means. Some of such groups are friendly to the USSR and some to the United States, and the two countries lend support to them. If one takes the situation in Viet Nam, there are some seven to fifteen thousand guerillas there. We do not believe that they reflect the will of the people, while the USSR may believe so. The problem is to avoid getting involved in direct contact as we support the respective groups. In Laos, where the two countries are openly supporting the respective local groupings, the question is how to draw fire out of the situation in a way that would be mutually satisfactory to both sides.

Mr. Khrushchev said that the President and himself had a different understanding of liberation wars. As far as Laos is concerned, the Soviet Union is for an independent and neutral Laos and the Foreign Ministers of the two countries are probably talking about this problem right now.

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters]

Reverting to Laos, Mr. Khrushchev said that the Conference was in session and that it was there that a solution should be worked out. The USSR will exert efforts to solve the Laotian question and have a government establish control in that country. However, the Soviet Union will not agree to the ICC’s becoming a kind of a supragovernment administering the country.

The President said that he wanted to respond to those remarks without referring to Poland or Taiwan. He said he agreed that the ICC should be no government. However, it should determine whether a cease fire exists. The Soviet side has claimed that there have been breaches on the part of the forces supported by us. Our people have said that the forces supported by the Soviet Union have breached the cease fire. The President said he believed it would be a simple matter for the ICC to examine these charges and to submit its report. This should take only a few days and then the next step would be the creation of an independent and neutral Laos.

Mr. Khrushchev responded by saying that the Soviet Union approached the situation differently. Referring to the President’s remark that Viet Minh forces were involved in Laos, he said that he had no such information and that this was inaccurate. What is more accurate, and what is an actual fact, is that military action was started from Thailand by the United States.

The President replied that whether he or Mr. Khrushchev were right the problem was to have the ICC examine the situation with regard to the cease fire, without action by Viet Minh or any other action. The cease fire is the main problem now.

[Page 230]

Mr. Khrushchev said that he agreed. However, he said that this could not be done without taking into account the forces participating in the struggle. There are three forces in this area and they must agree among themselves. Even if our two countries were to agree, that agreement would serve no useful purpose without agreement among the forces participating in the struggle.

The President suggested that the two countries use their influence with the people they are associated with to induce them to support the ICC and grant the Commission free access to the respective areas, so that the Commission could perform its task effectively. Then the next step would be the creation of an independent and neutral Laos.

Mr. Khrushchev expressed agreement that both countries should use their influence so as to bring about agreement among the forces participating in the Laotian struggle.

The President said that he believed that on this point agreement could be reached here. He remarked facetiously that this should be possible even if no agreement could be reached on the merits of the American election system.

Mr. Khrushchev said that this latter question was an internal affair of the United States.

In view of the late hour, the President suggested that perhaps, if there was a chance, the question of nuclear tests could be discussed during the dinner given by the Austrian President, so that tomorrow most of the time could be devoted to the problem of Germany. Otherwise, both problems could be discussed tomorrow.

Mr. Khrushchev replied that he would like to connect the questions of nuclear tests and disarmament. He said that he would set forth his position on this issue as well as, of course, on Germany. The main problem in this latter matter is that of a peace treaty. The Soviet Union hopes that the US will understand this question so that both countries can sign a peace treaty together. This would improve relations. But if the United States refuses to sign a peace treaty, the Soviet Union will do so and nothing will stop it.

The conversation ended at 6:45 p.m.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1901. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Alexander Akalovsky and approved by the White House on June 23. The conversation took place at the residence and residence garden of the Ambassador in Vienna. Kennedy was in Vienna June 3–4 for a summit meeting with Khrushchev. The complete records of the discussions, along with briefing papers, schedules, and related telegrams and papers are ibid., CF 1900–1906. Documentation is printed in Volume V.
  2. At the earlier luncheon meeting on June 3 at the Ambassador’s residence, Kennedy and Khrushchev and other U.S. and Soviet officials discussed the history of the Geneva Conference of 1954. While the conversation was predominantly social and ranged over a number of issues, Khrushchev stated that the 1954 conference had found a good solution for Vietnam and perhaps the same thing would happen this time at Geneva. (Memorandum of conversation, June 3; ibid.)
  3. The conversation before lunch lasted from 12:45 to 1:30 p.m. and was a general discussion of communism versus capitalism and did not relate directly to Laos. (Memorandum of conversation, June 3; ibid.)