161. Letter From Secretary of State Rusk to Attorney General Katzenbach1

Dear Nick:

I am sure you are aware that the Soviet Embassy has been looking for a large piece of property in Washington for several years to be used as the site of a new chancery. The Soviets contend that their present building is overcrowded, and they appear to have made a firm decision to move to other quarters rather than try to expand their facilities at their present site on 16th Street. Their inability to acquire suitable real estate has been an increasing irritant in our relations. Further, our Embassy in Moscow is badly overcrowded and far below standard, and the Soviets have refused to make property available to us for new buildings until their problem in Washington has been solved.

For these reasons I believe it is in our interest to assist the Soviets in finding a suitable chancery site. We have explored many possibilities but the only one that seems to offer promise is an arrangement, presently under consideration by the General Services Administration, under which we might offer to lease the Mt. Alto Veterans’ Hospital site on Wisconsin Avenue near Massachusetts Avenue to the Soviets on a long-term basis. We would demand a site of comparable size in a comparable location in Moscow in return.

Before presenting this proposal to the Soviet Government I wish to be sure that Soviet occupancy of this property would not create an unacceptable internal security hazard. We have been consulting with the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether any major problems [Page 395]exist. The Department of Defense has informally agreed to our offering this property. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has not informed us of the existence of any potential security problems. The National Security Agency considers that some problems may exist and is studying the question further. They hope to come to a final decision quite soon.

I would appreciate your preliminary thoughts on the advisability, from the point of view of internal security, of offering this property to the Soviet Government for a chancery site in exchange for suitable facilities in Moscow. I believe that such a step would be in the national interest because it would remove an increasingly important irritant in our relations with the Soviet Union and it would facilitate a solution to our own critical housing problem in Moscow. Of course, a considerable period of time will elapse between the first discussions of our proposal and the beginning of any construction work on the property. An even longer time will pass before the site is occupied by the Soviets. During this period it would be possible to eliminate whatever risks to the internal security that may exist. Naturally, this Department is ready to cooperate with all interested agencies in this regard to the maximum feasible extent.

We will not discuss this possibility with the Soviets until you have studied the problem. However, we believe we should move quickly in order to maximize our chances of negotiating reciprocal arrangements in Moscow. Further, the General Services Administration cannot hold this surplus property for an indefinite period and a decision as to its disposal must be made soon. Therefore, I would very much appreciate an early reply.2

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 17 USSR-US. Secret. Drafted by Robert L. Barry (EUR/SOV).
  2. Apparently the Justice Department raised no objections to the Mt. Alto site because on July 8 Stoessel made the tentative offer to Dobrynin, but pointed out that this land would be available only in exchange for a comparable property in Moscow. Dobrynin showed definite interest in the location and said he would discuss it with the proper authorities during his return to Moscow. (Telegram 4942 to Moscow, July 11; ibid., POL 17–7 USSR-US) A summary of Stoessel’s conversation with Dobrynin was included in the State Department’s memorandum for the President for his evening reading. (Ibid., S/S Files: Lot 74 D 164)