23. Oral Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Johnson1

Dear Mr. President:

Your reply to my verbal message of February 28, 1964,2 which expressed our point of view on the question of reducing the production of fissionable materials for military purposes, was transmitted to me.

You express satisfaction at our consent to try to search for agreement on this question. I can confirm that we are actually ready for this.

At the same time, it appears to me to be necessary, at this stage of our exchange of opinions, to say once more quite definitely that we consider some reduction in the manufacture of fissionable materials for military purposes to be a measure which is most limited in its significance. The reduction in the manufacture of fissionable materials will not only fail to signify liquidation of nuclear weapons, but will not even arrest the process of their further accumulation in the arsenals of states. Accordingly, reaching agreement on this question, if one regards matters in their true perspective, will simply bear witness to the fact that neither side has any intention to compete with the other, without restraint, in an effort to determine who will have the large reserves of raw material for nuclear weapons.

However, for the present situation of international affairs this, too, may turn out to be useful, in as much as any step which in some degree contributes to the strengthening of mutual trust between our two countries, which reflects mutual understanding with respect to the necessity of avoiding nuclear war, may contribute to the creation of more favorable conditions for the solution of those questions upon which in the final analysis the preservation of peace depends. It is for this very reason that we are, in addition to that which has already been accomplished—the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, the agreement on not launching into orbit objects with nuclear weapons, some measure of reduction of military expenditures of the USSR and the USA—in favor of now also adding agreement on reducing the manufacture of fissionable materials for military purposes.

I consider it necessary to tell you about all this because it is useful for both of us to have a clear understanding of each other’s views with [Page 48] respect to the realistic significance of this measure; otherwise a situation may arise when that limited success which has already been achieved will overshadow those important and urgent tasks which are still far from being solved—the tasks of reaching agreement on measures toward reducing the arms race, on measures of actual disarmament.

If I have correctly understood the meaning of your message of March 9, 19643 there are a number of points of contact as regards a practical solution of the problem of reducing the manufacture of fissionable materials for military purposes. This pertains, first of all, to the recognition by both sides of the possibility of proceeding to some measure of reducing production of plutonium, as well as uranium-235, for military purposes.

As concerns plutonium, here, apparently, there is agreement between us to the effect that we are to discontinue the construction of two new large reactors, while you will shut down four old reactors which have a considerable smaller capacity than the ones we are now building. But with respect to reducing the production of uranium-235, we shall be able to determine our decision after it has become definitely known what steps for reducing the manufacture of fissionable materials will be undertaken by your NATO partners—England and France.

For now, I will only say that we have planned to reduce the manufacture of uranium-235 for military purposes and to increase its consumption for peaceful needs.

In this connection I would like to remark that we have noted your expressed consideration as to the fact that the reduction in the manufacture of fissionable materials by our two countries need not necessarily be carried out in equal dimensions. I think that this is a realistic approach to the problem if only because in NATO fissionable materials are being produced by three powers—not only by the United States of America but also by your allies—England and France, while among the Socialist countries they are being produced solely by the Soviet Union, which fact, of course, one cannot fail to take into account. Therefore, we shall determine the extent of the reduction in the manufacture of fissionable materials by taking into account their total production by NATO countries.

You have informed me of the fact that you are discussing the question of reducing the manufacture of fissionable materials in England with the English Prime Minister and that you are sure that the English Government would be ready at the proper time to undertake appropriate steps in this direction as its contribution to the simultaneous action of our three countries. It would be desirable, however, to have a specific [Page 49] understanding as to the steps which England would be ready to undertake.

And France? You do not say anything about whether there is any prospect that on her part, too, measures will be undertaken towards reducing the manufacture of fissionable materials for military purposes. I hope that you will agree that it is important for us to know how matters will stand in this respect with France. In speaking of this I cannot refrain from remarking in passing that our specialists continue to insist on the evaluation of the capacity of the French Pierrelatte gaseous diffusion plant which I cited in my preceding message. In doing so, by the way, they cite American publications as well. Also, they confirm their appraisal of the capacity of the new American reactor in Hanford and the four reactors to be shut down, to which capacities I have also referred.

It is necessary to clarify one more question as well. As I understand it, we agree with respect to having the actions for reducing the manufacture of fissionable materials carried out by our two countries in a parallel manner—by way of mutual example, i.e., on the basis of faith in each other’s intentions.

Otherwise in this case it is simply impossible to approach a solution of this problem, since it is a question of such steps as do not provide for actual disarmament and, consequently, their implementation cannot be subjected to control without being detrimental to the legitimate interests of the security of states.

At the same time, in your message you speak of the desirability of working out some kind of provisions providing for the verification of the reduction by our two countries in the manufacture of fissionable materials for military purposes. I will tell you frankly: we will not agree to the establishment of control over the enterprises of our atomic industry if at the same time no agreement is reached on disarmament, on the liquidation of nuclear weapons.

As to the factor of mutual trust in the implementation by both sides of reduction in the manufacture of fissionable materials, it seems to me that due significance should be given to this factor. We already have certain experience in this regard: it was on this very mutual trust that we based our agreement not to launch into orbit objects with nuclear weapons. And it seems that this does not disturb either side, because each side relies on the word given by the other side. The same may also be said concerning the steps which we took toward mutual understanding with regard to a certain reduction in military budgets.

These are the thoughts, Mr. President, which occur to me in connection with our exchange of opinions on the question of reducing the manufacture of fissionable materials for military purposes. The impression is created that on this problem, apparently, agreement may be reached, it being important merely to know what steps will be taken in [Page 50] this direction also by other powers producing fissionable materials for military purposes. As to the form of such an understanding, your proposal to prepare and exchange separate statements concerning our proposed action toward reducing the manufacture of fissionable materials and to publish these statements simultaneously is acceptable to us.

It seems advisable to us that the statements should likewise reflect the intention of our governments to expand in the future the delivery for peaceful uses fissionable materials from current production or from accumulated reserves. In this connection I should like to note with satisfaction your positive attitude toward our idea of cooperation in the implementation of such big projects as the desalting of sea water, which, as I have already pointed out in a preceding message,4 is so badly needed by a large number of states. If Soviet and American scientists and engineers would combine their efforts in the interests of a more effective solution of the problem of desalting sea water and utilize atomic energy for such purposes, this would be a great and very useful operation. It would also be possible to consider other potential fields of cooperation between our two countries in the utilization of nuclear energy for the good of mankind.

With respect.5

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Arms Control Messages Exchanged Between President Johnson and Chairman, USSR, Vol. 1, Box 11. No classification marking. A typed notation on the source text indicates that the date refers to the day the message was received.
  2. Document 15.
  3. Document 18.
  4. Khrushchev mentioned desalinization of sea water in his February 28 message to President Johnson.
  5. Printed from an unsigned copy.