151. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson 1


  • Possible United States Tour of Soviet Bolshoi Ballet

The Soviets last year proposed that the Bolshoi Ballet tour the United States this spring as the first attraction under a new exchanges agreement for 1966–67. Sol Hurok, who has acted as impresario for many Soviet groups, has been handling arrangements for the Bolshoi tour.

Based upon this planning, the Soviets last year offered the Bolshoi to the United Nations for a benefit performance in New York on behalf of the United Nations International School. At the United Nations Secretariat’s request, Ambassador Goldberg last August agreed to share sponsorship of the benefit with the Secretary General and Soviet Ambassador Federenko. It was assumed that the Bolshoi Ballet would come to the United States in the normal course of the exchanges program. Last month, under encouragement from Mr. Hurok, the United Nations Secretariat issued invitations for a benefit performance at the Metropolitan Opera House on April 19, which would be the opening night of the proposed United States tour. These invitations carried the written sponsorship of U Thant, Ambassador Goldberg and Ambassador Federenko.

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By way of background, under our Exchanges Agreement with the USSR for 1964–65, each side agreed to receive five performing arts groups. We have received all five Soviet groups, but the Soviets have failed to receive our fifth group. As a result, we informed the USSR in December that, unless a new agreement is concluded or assured and unless the Soviets deal with their remaining obligation to receive an attraction under the last agreement, no Soviet performing arts groups would be permitted to come to the United States. This includes the Bolshoi Ballet.

We agree with Ambassador Kohler that failure to hold the line would encourage the Soviets to think that they could carry on an exchanges program suitable to them in the absence of an agreement assuring an adequate quid pro quo to the United States.2

I have now instructed Ambassador Goldberg to take up with Ambassador Federenko the question of the United Nations benefit performance of the Bolshoi Ballet.3 He will point out that (1) his acceptance of co-sponsorship of the benefit was based upon the assumption that the ballet would be touring in the United States on the basis of a new exchanges agreement; (2) because of our support for the United Nations school, we are prepared to admit the Bolshoi Ballet specifically and only for the United Nations benefit performance in New York on April 19; and (3) as we have informed the Soviet Government, we would not be prepared to permit the Bolshoi to make any other appearances in the United States in the absence of a new agreement and without a satisfactory arrangement on the unfulfilled commitment under the previous agreement.

We can anticipate that Mr. Hurok will seek to reverse our position concerning the United States tour of the Bolshoi, and he may shortly try pressuring the White House with this in mind. I think it is important that we stand firm, leaving the burden on the Soviets to move ahead on a new agreement. The single United Nations performance will be costly to them unless they get an entire tour, which we should refuse without an agreement.

Dean Rusk 4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, CUL 16 USSR. Confidential. Drafted by Boris H. Klosson and Arthur I. Wortzel (EUR/SES) and cleared with Leddy, Thompson, CU, and IO.
  2. Kohler expressed his views on the invitation in telegram 2469 from Moscow, February 10. (Ibid.)
  3. The instructions were sent to Goldberg in telegram 1947 to USUN, February 13 at 1:38 p.m. (Ibid.)
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates Rusk signed the original.