18. Oral Message From President Johnson to Chairman Khrushchev1

When Thompson gave the message to Dobrynin on March 9, the Soviet Ambassador read it carefully and inquired on what basis the 25 percent reduction was made, and Thompson replied that he “understood this was on the remainder after the earlier cut had been made.” Dobrynin also asked whether the suggestion of verification was an absolute condition. Thompson said he “did not think it was an absolute condition, but that we felt strongly that this would be advisable and would greatly add to the significance of the announcement of cutbacks.” (Memorandum of Conversation, March 9; ibid.)

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have received your oral message of February 282 in answer to a similar message of mine of February 223 and I am pleased that you agree with me on the desirability of concurrent action in the area of the reduction of production of fissionable materials. I am particularly gratified to [Page 39] learn of your decision that the Soviet Government is prepared to announce the ending of the construction of two new large reactors for the production of plutonium.

In your letter you raise some question on the announced U.S. reduction in plutonium production since your specialists have informed you that the new NPR reactor at Hanford would have twice as much power as all four of the reactors which are being shut down. On the contrary, our cutback in plutonium production is actually very much greater than your specialists have stated. The new NPR will have very much less power than the total power of the four reactors in question. Perhaps this misunderstanding on the part of your specialists arose from the fact that the power levels of the four reactors being shut down have been increased several-fold over their original design levels. Moreover, it is our plan to operate the NPR reactor, which will be used to produce civilian electric power, in such a manner that a substantial portion of the plutonium produced will not be used for weapons but for the development of breeder piles for the peaceful civilian power program.

Nevertheless, as I previously stated, I do not believe that the reductions in production of fissionable materials by our two countries need be by an equal amount. Therefore, I believe that your proposed halting the construction of two new reactors would serve as an appropriate step on your part to parallel the closing down of the four U.S. reactors.

As I informed you in my oral message of February 22, the U.S. also proposes to undertake additional substantial reductions in the production of Uranium 235. Specifically, we plan to cut back the production of Uranium 235 by another twenty-five percent in addition to the reduction of twenty-five percent that I announced in January of this year. This additional cutback will be implemented in an orderly fashion over the next few years.

In your reply no specific reference is made to parallel Soviet reductions in the production of Uranium 235, but your message implies that you have such actions under consideration. I think that this would be particularly appropriate since it is our understanding that you are continuing to expand your already substantial Uranium 235 production capacity. I am therefore looking forward to learning of any reductions or curtailment that you might have planned in this area which might be considered as a counterpart of the U.S. reductions.

You have called attention to the starting up of the French gaseous diffusion plant at Pierrelatte and indicate that it has been reported to have a capacity of one-fourth the American level. We are convinced that this report is incorrect and that the proposed production of the French Uranium 235 plant is a much smaller fraction of either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. capacity. Therefore, I do not believe that this activity on the part of the French should preclude a decision on your part to reduce Uranium 235 production or plant expansion.

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The United Kingdom has also announced that it has stopped the output of Uranium 235 for weapons purposes and is gradually bringing to an end the production of plutonium for weapons use. This is in contrast with your concern that new plutonium plants were being put into operation in England. I am taking this up with the British Prime Minister and I feel sure that he would be prepared at the right time to amplify the recent announcement about United Kingdom reductions as a part of a concurrent action by our three countries.

In your message you raise serious questions about the accuracy and nature of the proposed reductions in fissionable materials production programs. I can appreciate these misunderstandings since all of these programs have been conducted in a highly secure manner. Precisely for this reason, I should like to reaffirm my previous suggestion on the desirability of some type of verification to confirm the nature of the cutbacks being carried out by our countries. I am sure that mutually satisfactory arrangements could be devised so as not to involve unreasonable intrusion. For example, simple observation of some facilities could confirm they were shut down. If such verification could be arranged, I feel that it would add measurable to the confidence of all peoples in the reality of our reductions. Moreover, this verification would provide invaluable experience for the development of verification procedures that must accompany any agreement on the cut-off of fissionable material production for use in weapons.

In any case, I believe that we should try to make our announcements on plutonium and Uranium 235 reductions as soon as possible. I also note with pleasure your suggestion that we move on from these initial steps to other measures which would involve actual transfers to peaceful uses of substantial quantities of fissionable materials out of current production or accumulated stockpiles. The U.S. has made numerous offers to transfer large quantities of fissionable material to peaceful uses, and I look forward to further exchanges of view on this subject in the near future. I also share your interest in the possibilities of increased applications of nuclear energy to the welfare of the peoples of the world and would welcome further discussions on possible cooperative projects such as the desalinization of sea water.

I shall look forward to hearing from you in the near future on your overall program of reductions or curtailments which would parallel the planned U.S.-U.K. reductions. I propose that we prepare and exchange independent announcements of our intended actions for concurrent release. I believe that the proposed parallel actions will provide a good illustration of what you have called a policy of mutual example.


  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Head of State Correspondence File, Pen Pal Correspondence, Khrushchev (2), Box 8. No classification marking.
  2. Document 15.
  3. Document 11.
  4. Printed from an unsigned copy.