23. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • U.S.-Soviet Problems

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • Foy D. Kohler, American Ambassador to the U.S.S.R.

I met with the President for approximately 50 minutes this morning from shortly after 11 a.m. until nearly 12 noon. After a few exchanges about my activities since I had seen him on March 62 and during the picture-taking period I reported to him on my meeting with Senator Jackson’s Subcommittee on National Security Staffing and Operations this morning, mentioning in particular the off-the-record exchange I had had with Senator Javits about anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. I said I told the Senator that the recent meeting of Jewish societies in Washington and their subsequent meeting with the President and the Secretary of State3 were the kind of activities which, together with official efforts in the U.N. and maximum publication of the facts of the situation of the Jews in the Soviet Union, might influence the Soviet leadership toward alleviating the situation of the Jews there.

After the photographers had departed I expressed my relief at the Soviet decision during my absence to release the RB–66 flyers who were held in East Germany and my appreciation of the action the President had taken to prevent recurrences. This led the President to mention his own apprehensions about the possibility of incidents connected with the CENTO military maneuvers and air exercises in Iran. He thereupon called Secretary McNamara and among other things asked him to make sure that maximum precautions were taken to insure against any incursions into Soviet air space, and then called Mr. McGeorge Bundy to report his conversation with Secretary McNamara and to ask Mr. Bundy [Page 56]to follow through with the Defense and State Departments. Mr. Bundy came to the President’s Office and participated in some further discussion on this matter.

Subsequently the conversation followed the general lines of our initial talk on March 6, particularly as respects Soviet attitudes toward relationships with the U.S. during the current period. When I reported that I was sure that Chairman Khrushchev would be looking for an early opportunity to meet with the President following the November elections, the President indicated his own view that such a meeting would be useful. In this connection we discussed Khrushchev’s personality and possible matters which might come up in such a meeting, agreeing however that the agenda of such a meeting would depend upon developments meanwhile and the situation at such a time. The President indicated his understanding that a meeting with Khrushchev would necessarily have to be coordinated with previous contacts with Allied leadership.

In discussing our current bilateral relationship with the Soviet Union I mentioned again the question of the Civil Air Agreement, saying that since our first conversation I had discussed this matter with the Secretary of State and others concerned, in particular Assistant Secretary Mann. I said that Mr. Mann had agreed that I report to the President that he would review his objections in the light of his current negotiations about Cuba and that he hoped to be able to reach a decision within the next couple of weeks which would allow him to withdraw his objections to the early signature and implementation of the Agreement. I again stressed my own view that the Russians regard this as a symbol of U.S. willingness to do business with them and pointed out also that the Soviet promise of improved communications facilities for the Embassy in Moscow was undoubtedly related in their mind to the question of the Air Agreement. I also reported to the President that I thought that we could expect to conclude negotiations for the Consular Convention within a matter of weeks after my return to Moscow. The President asked a number of questions in this connection including some about our expectations with respect to the subsequent reciprocal establishment of consulates. I described the nature of the Consular Convention and the expectation that after its conclusion we would ask for a consulate general in Leningrad while the Russians would probably ask for one in New York.

There was relatively little discussion of Cuba on this occasion but I did repeat my general view of the Soviet position on this question and said that I would keep very much in mind the President’s concern about the Soviet presence there. The President asked a number of questions about the conflict between Moscow and Peiping to which I replied along the lines indicated in the memorandum of conversation on March [Page 57]6. In this connection the President referred with some satisfaction to the reports of Khrushchev’s remarks during his current visit to Hungary.

The President asked a number of questions about the economic situation in the Soviet Union and I reviewed Khrushchev’s difficulties in this respect at some length along the lines reported by the Embassy, stressing that Khrushchev had a problem of resource distribution which made his, the President’s, problem in this respect seem relatively easy. The President expressed considerable interest in this phase of the conversation and the hope that means could be found to make the Soviet difficulties both in the international field and in their domestic economy better understood here at home.

While Mr. Bundy was present and at the end of the conversation the President requested that I meet with the White House correspondents afterwards and give them as much of a rundown as I could on the nature of our conversation. Accordingly, after checking with Mr. Bundy and with the President’s, Press Secretary, Mr. Reedy, I joined with the latter in his daily press briefing, made a general statement about my visit with the President and responded to questions for approximately 15 minutes.

Summary of Actions:

1.
Secretary of Defense instructed by President to take maximum precautions to prevent incursions of Soviet air space during CENTO maneuvers.
2.
Mr. McGeorge Bundy instructed by President to follow through with State and Defense Departments on CENTO maneuver precautions.
3.
Assistant Secretary Mann to review his objections to signing Civil Air Agreement with U.S.S.R. within a few weeks in light of Cuba situation.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, Vol. III. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted and initialed by Kohler on April 9. According to the President’s Daily Diary, McGeorge Bundy sat in for part of the discussion. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 15.
  3. A memorandum of Rusk’s conversation on April 7 with Lewis H. Weinstein, President of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. The President’s Daily Diary indicates that the President greeted a “Jewish Group” in the Fish Room at the White House at 5:45 p.m. on April 6, but no further information is provided. (Johnson Library)