17. Notes of Meeting1

At 11 a.m. I met in the Situation Room of the White House with Bundy, Foster, Thompson, Scoville, McNaughton, Keeny, McCone and Chamberlain. Bundy opened the meeting, which was called to discuss Chairman Khrushchev’s oral answer (copy attached) of February 28, 1964,2 to President Johnson’s message (copy attached) of February 18, 1964,3 by asking Ambassador Thompson for his reaction to this response.

[Page 37]

Thompson said he felt that it might have some significance in regard to Khrushchev’s desire for an agreement in this area. Bundy asked me whether a further delay in announcing the further cutback in power for U-235 production was possible, and I indicated that another month or two could certainly be arranged. Thompson suggested that a copy of the Khrushchev message be given to the U.K. Bundy and Foster thought we should decide our own course of action before we do this.4 Bundy raised the question of whether the NPR produces weapons grade plutonium, or whether it could be said that this production was all for peaceful uses.

I said that it is contemplated that a substantial fraction of its output would be used for weapons grade plutonium. Bundy mentioned that the President had some doubts as to the future value of the NPR. There was further discussion as to the possibility of the NPR’s being devoted exclusively to the production of plutonium for use as fuel for civilian power, with the implication that this might be explored further.

McCone pointed out that, with respect to possible cuts by the Soviets on the production of enriched U-235, this could be monitored by the power input in the gaseous diffusion plants. Bundy said he thought that we should think about the possibility of coupling the announcement of the cutback in Soviet plutonium production, mentioned by Khrushchev, with the announcement of a further cutback of U.S. production of enriched U-235.

There ensued discussion of the type of reply that should be prepared for the Khrushchev message, and it was agreed that Scoville, Chamberlain and Keeny should draft such a message. This message would include an explanation that the cut in plutonium production through the shutdown of four reactors would much more than counter-balance the increase in production due to the start up of the NPR; in fact, it was felt that it might be best to say that the NPR production is only about one-half that corresponding to the shutdown of the four reactors. McCone felt that this might be included in the letter to Khrushchev because they already very likely know our production rates.

It was agreed that the letter should reiterate the value of inspection in connection with cutbacks. It was agreed that when a draft of the letter [Page 38] was available, it would be checked with me. I identified the dilemma of whether any joint announcement with the USSR would be based, from the standpoint of the U.S., on the rationale that the U.S. was cutting back production because it had more fissionable material than it needed, or on the rationale that we were cutting back production in concert with the Soviets (which presents the difficulty of appearing that we are entering into an arrangement without provisions for inspection). (Attached is a copy of the draft reply to Khrushchev.)5

[Here follow notes of a meeting with private industry executives, a meeting on congressional legislation, and a telephone conversation relating to the University of Chicago.]

  1. Source: Seaborg, Journal, Vol. 8, pp. 8 and 30. No classification marking.
  2. See Document 15. In a March 3 memorandum to the President, Foster offered his optimistic assessment of Khrushchev’s “encouraging response” and proposed an approach “to obtain the maximum benefits from the initiative of your original letter.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence File, Pen Pal Correspondence, Khrushchev (1), Box 8)
  3. Reference is to the President’s draft message of February 18 (see footnote 1, Document 11), not the final version of February 22, Document 11.
  4. In a March 4 meeting with British Ambassador Ormsby Gore, Foster and Scoville shared the exchange of letters and the March 3 draft response and asked for more details on the British cutback for possible inclusion in President Johnson’s reply to Khrushchev. The Ambassador, taking the three documents with him, agreed to get his government’s answers to them as quickly as possible. (Memorandum for the Record by Scoville, March 4; Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA/D Files: FRC 77 A 80, Current Johnson-Khrushchev Papers) No early British response has been found, but President Johnson’s oral message of March 9 (Document 18) eliminates the following sentence from the March 3 draft: “I have been assured by Her Majesty’s Government that no expansion of plutonium production capacity for weapons is in fact being undertaken.” For further U.S.-U.K. discussions of this question, see Document 20.
  5. Dated March 3. (Seaborg, Journal, Vol. 8, pp. 25-29) At a White House meeting on March 7, Foster, Scoville, Keeny, Thompson, and Seaborg further discussed the wording of President Johnson’s proposed message to Khrushchev. The participants “focused especially on the question of the comparison between the production rate of the oncoming NPR reactor and the four old reactors that are being shut down.” (Ibid., p. 50)