108. 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, Interpretor, USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs

During the exchange of amenities, the President asked Mr. Khrushchev what part of the USSR he was from. Mr. Khrushchev replied that he had been born in Russia, in a village in the vicinity of Kursh, 7 or 10 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, but that he had spent the early part of his life in the Ukraine. In this connection, he mentioned that recently very large deposits of iron ore had been found near Kurak. The deposits already prospected are estimated at 30 billion tons. The general estimate of these particular deposits is about 300 billion tons. Thus, he said, Soviet deposits will be sufficient to cover the needs of the entire world for a long time to come.

The President observed that he wondered why then the Soviet Union was interested in Laos.

Mr. Khrushchev said that the Soviet Union was not interested in Laos, but that it was the US which had created the Laotian situation.

The President said that he was not sure whether Mr. Khrushchev and himself could reach agreement on all the items under discussion, but he appreciated the frankness and precision with which the positions had been stated. Yet he believed that agreement could be reached on the question of Laos. Yesterday, both sides had agreed that Laos was of no strategic importance and was not vital to either side. However, the United States became involved in Laos by treaty and other commitments. The President said that his interest was to secure a cease-fire and [Page 232] to stop the fighting. This, he thought, would be in the interest of both sides. Then a government could be secured which would not be weighted in either direction. The President referred to the remarks made yesterday regarding the situation in Burma and Cambodia, which appeared to be satisfactory to both sides, and said that agreement on Laos should be possible along the same lines. However, the first problem is to stop the fighting. In our view military activities are still going on in some areas of Laos. We have information that Viet Minh forces are involved, while Mr. Khrushchev said that Thais were involved. If the Co-Chairmen of the Conference were to instruct jointly the ICC to make a determination as to the actual situation, the ICC should go to both sides and make its investigation. The President then referred to Mr. Khrushchev’s statement yesterday in which he took issue with what he called the Dulles policy of strength. The President said he wanted to change US policy in this area because Laos was of no strategic importance. In the eyes of the world, both sides are involved in the Laotian situation; the United States wishes to reduce its involvement and hopes that the Soviet Union wishes the same. However, the President continued, as President he has certain responsibilities and if he changes US policy he must see that it works. The United States also wants to secure a government which both sides could support. If the situation can be changed, and Mr. Khrushchev said yesterday that it should be changed, then we could proceed with other matters. Laos is not so important as to get us as involved as we are.

Mr. Khrushchev said that he agreed with the President’s concluding remark. The Soviet Union has no commitment in Laos, has never undertaken any obligations in that area, and will not do so in the future. If the Soviet Union has helped Laos it has been only at the request of Souvanna Phouma, who represents the only legitimate Laotian Government. That Government was ousted by external forces supported by the US. This is why the Soviet Union cannot recognize any other government. The Soviet Union has no vested interest in Laos, either political or economic, or of any other nature. That country is far from Soviet borders. In general the Soviet Union has no desire of committing itself or assuming responsibilities in the various geographic areas. So when the President says that the United States has commitments, this makes a bad impression upon the USSR. The US has no right to distribute indulgences, as it were, and to interfere in the various areas of the world. Mr. Khrushchev said he liked the concluding part of the President’s remarks to the effect that the two countries should not get involved. This is a correct approach but it would be bad if the United States were to attempt to claim special rights on the grounds that it had vested interests. If the President would pardon the blunt expression, such policy stems from megalomania, from delusions of grandeur. The United States is so rich [Page 233] and powerful that it believes it has special rights and can afford not to recognize the rights of others. The Soviet Union cannot reconcile itself with such a situation and will not concede its own rights. The Soviet Union will also help other peoples obtain their independence. This is a correct policy. If we want to normalize the situation and prevent conflicts between our two countries anywhere in the world, the US should not seek any special rights. The Soviet Union cannot accept the thesis of “don’t poke your nose” because whenever the rights of the people are infringed upon, the Soviet Union will render assistance to the people. This, of course, aggravates the situation and the Soviet Union does not wish such a development. The situation should be normalized. The US should respect the rights of other peoples, the Soviet people as well as other peoples. The Soviet Union does not wish to divide the world. It has no commitment anywhere other than toward the Socialist countries. On the other hand, the United States has spread its forces all over. But time has changed. As the President has stated, the forces of the two sides are now in balance. Mr. Khrushchev said that he was making this statement not for the purpose of argument but only to recognize this fact. A great deal of restraint is required because the factors of prestige and national interests are involved here. We should not step on each other’s toes and should not infringe upon the rights of other nations, small or big.

The President said that, frankly speaking, he had assumed office on January 20th and that the obligations and commitments had been undertaken before that time. Why these obligations and commitments were undertaken and what factors were involved at that time is not an issue here. The United States and the USSR should adopt the policy of creating a neutral and independent Laos. This is what the United States wants to do. The President reiterated that he did not want to increase US commitments but rather decrease them. There is no point in raking over past history to which Mr. Khrushchev objects. There are some facts in past history to which the United States also objects. But this is not an issue here. What is an issue here, is how to secure a cease-fire and to have the fighting stop. The United States wishes a government in Laos which would not be involved either with the United States or with the USSR, but would rather be genuinely neutral. The US went to the Conference with the genuine expectation that arrangements could be made to ensure an effective verification of the cease-fire and that the next step would be the creation of a truly neutral Laos. The United States does not believe that there is an effective cease-fire in Laos. But whatever the facts of past history we should now act in such a way as to pursue the policy of ensuring a truly neutral and independent Laos, which we believe is also Soviet policy.

Mr. Khrushchev replied that he could subscribe to everything the President had said and that he fully associated himself with the President’s [Page 234] remarks, which he liked very much. However, there was one point he wanted to make. The President had said that the Laotian situation was a legacy, but one could see in that situation the President’s own hand as well. The President had ordered that US military advisers in Laos should wear US military uniforms; he had also ordered a landing of Marines in Laos but the order had been rescinded.

The President interjected that there had been no order for a landing of Marines. True, there had been some speculation as to what action the US would take, but such an order had never been issued. Mr. Khrushchev responded by saying that he was referring to press reports.

Mr. Khrushchev went on to say that the President’s argument would be that all these commitments to Laos had been made by the previous administration. However, the Soviet Government has rescinded all the unreasonable decisions made by the previous governments under Malenkov and Bulganin. Mr. Khrushchev recalled the argument he had had with Molotov on the Austrian problem. As a result of his having overruled Molotov, a satisfactory solution of the problem was found and the US and the USSR signed the Austrian Treaty. Mr. Khrushchev said that he was sensitive with regard to US commitments. He said that the Westerners were much better than the Easterners at making threats in a refined way. Every once in a while it is intimated that Marines might be used. But as engineers know the law of physics says that every action causes counter-action. So if the United States were to send Marines, other countries might respond with their Marines or with some other forces. Thus another Korea or an even worse situation might result. Mr. Khrushchev repeated that he liked the President’s statement because it reflected the Soviet policy; in fact, the President seemed to have stated the Soviet policy and called it his own. The Soviet Union could guarantee that it would exert every effort to achieve a settlement. But this depends not merely on our two countries but on the three forces in Laos as well. Agreement between our two countries would be insufficient. However, we should influence the Laotian forces so that a truly neutral government could be established. Mr. Khrushchev said that he believed that the United States had no economic interest in Laos. The President had mentioned yesterday US strategic interests in connection with Taiwan. But this, as was mentioned yesterday, could mean that the United States could also take over Crimea because that would of course improve its strategic position too. Here the policies of the USSR and the US are not only in contrast but even in direct conflict. Such policy should be cast away and a reasonable policy should be adopted. In any event, the two Foreign Ministers could discuss the details of the Laotian question. They should be locked in a room and told to find a solution.

Mr. Gromyko interjected that the Palais des Nations in Geneva was a big place with a lot of rooms.

[Page 235]

The President said that he wanted to make a comment on Mr. Khrushchev’s statement regarding uniformed US personnel in Laos. He said that this action was taken when representatives of the Soviet Union and the UK were discussing in Moscow the question of effecting a cease-fire in Laos. When it became evident that no progress had been made the action was taken in order to prevent the situation from deteriorating further and to ensure a more favorable situation in which the conference could proceed. This is the kind of thing that happens when both sides are involved, and the United States would wish to avoid such developments.

Mr. Khrushchev then suggested that the questions of disarmament, nuclear tests and Germany be discussed now because otherwise there would be not enough time to do it.

The President replied that he wanted to make a final comment on the Laotian situation. He said that he was anxious to get the US military out of Laos. He had not supported and had been even reluctant to consider a landing of Marines, because he recognized that such action would entail retaliation and counteraction and thus peace in that area might be endangered. What he wanted to see in that area was an effective cease-fire and a peaceful settlement. He said perhaps Mr. Khrushchev could use his influence on Gromyko to persuade him to cooperate in bringing about an effective cease-fire in Laos and let the ICC verify the cease-fire in an effective manner. That was the basis on which the United States had agreed to come to the conference. The President then suggested that perhaps the Secretary and Gromyko could discuss this question during lunch.

Mr. Khrushchev said he could add little to what had already been said. He agreed that a cease-fire should be sought. However, other questions should not be delayed by lack of a cease-fire. The point is that the situation at front lines is always unstable and even a shot fired accidentally by a soldier could be regarded by the other side as a violation of the cease-fire. Therefore, other questions should not be made contingent upon a cease-fire. However, the President should not misunderstand this position. The USSR believes that the question of a cease-fire should be handled on a priority basis, but the basic question is to bring about agreement among the three forces in Laos, so that the formation of a truly neutral government could be secured. Mr. Khrushchev agreed that no normal conditions for settlement would exist in the absence of a cease-fire. However, he was not aware of any fighting going on; if the United States had contrary information, it should be verified.

Mr. Gromyko remarked that the ICC was already in Laos and that it could act by agreement of both sides. In response to an inquiry by the Secretary, Mr. Gromyko clarified that what he meant by both sides were [Page 236] the two sides fighting in Laos. The ICC should not be granted the rights of a supragovernment.

The President reiterated his hope that the Secretary and Mr. Gromyko could discuss this problem briefly during lunch.1

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1901. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Akalovsky and approved by the White House on June 23. The conversation took place at the Soviet Embassy. The time of the end of this meeting is taken from the President’s Appointment Book. (Kennedy Library)
  2. On June 5 at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 3 p.m., Rusk met with De Gaulle and briefed him on Kennedy’s discussions with Khrushchev. As for Laos, Rusk stated that “nothing very concrete was achieved” although the Soviets might use their influence to allow the ICC to function. Rusk suggested that only time would tell how sincere the Soviet Union was about neutrality for Laos. (Memorandum of conversation, June 5; Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1901)