149. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Report of Luncheon Conversation Between Carl Rowan and Two Soviet Diplomats
- Mr. Carl Rowan, Publishers Newspapers Syndicate
- Mr. Malcolm Toon, Director, SOV
Rowan called on me to report a luncheon conversation on Saturday, with Chernyakov and Kalugin of the Soviet Embassy. The Soviet Embassy officials had told Rowan that the Soviet Government was perfectly prepared to carry on normal bilateral relations with the U.S., but had so far failed to receive the necessary degree of cooperation from U.S. authorities. They cited as illustrations of this state of affairs the Soviet willingness to put into effect the Civil Air Agreement and the Consular Convention and said baldly that the negative attitude of the U.S. Government had prevented any progress along this line. Rowan asked me what I thought of this rationale presented by the Soviet officials.
I told Rowan that with regard to the Civil Air Agreement and Consular Convention I was obliged to admit that there was an element of truth in the Soviet argument. I then briefly reviewed for Rowan the history of both agreements and told him that it was unlikely that any final action on them would be taken in the near future. I pointed out, however, that the Soviets’ own record was not quite so clean and bright [Page 372]as the Soviet Embassy interlocutors had led him to believe. The Soviets were primarily responsible for the slowdown of exchanges. They had refused to permit American performing arts groups to tour the Soviet Union in accordance with commitments under the exchange agreement, they had so far been almost totally unresponsive to our request for negotiations on a new exchanges agreement, and they had given indications that the outlook for exchanges was rather bleak in view of the current situation in Vietnam. I pointed out to Rowan that the Soviet argument that exchanges could not go on in a normal way because of our “changed policy in Vietnam” was without any substance; as the Soviets well knew our policy had been constant throughout three administrations. Obviously the tempo and nature of our support under this policy to the South Vietnamese had undergone change but this change was in response to actions taken by the other side in the Vietnam conflict. In a word it was Soviet policy not U.S. policy that had changed.
Rowan also reported a complaint by his Soviet hosts concerning the “visa war” which was now being waged by the State Department on foreign correspondents. I told Mr. Rowan that this was not the first time I had heard this complaint. I felt it important that Rowan understand that any difficulties that had arisen with regard to correspondents should be laid squarely at the Soviet door. I then reviewed for Rowan the history of expulsions of American correspondents from Moscow and told him that the arbitrary Soviet attitude toward the American press had naturally resulted in a certain lack of enthusiasm on our part for rapid processing of visas for Soviet correspondents here. The Soviets clearly understand, however, that if they would issue a visa to Watson of ABC any logjam that they might think exists would be quickly broken. I said it might be useful for Rowan to reinforce this line with the Soviets at his next meeting.
Rowan said that he hoped to be able to visit the Soviet Union sometime next spring (a tentative departure date is March 20) and he had discussed with Chernyakov and Kalugin the possibilities of arranging interviews with top Soviet leaders during his visit. They gave him some encouragement and said they would check his request with appropriate authorities and be in touch with him at a later date as to interview possibilities. They expressed the hope that if he should go to Moscow he would not behave as Jimmy Reston had; they said that Kosygin was shocked by Reston’s comments in his column following the interview, particularly his description of Kosygin as tough, doctrinaire, and essentially anti-American.2