27. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Private Channel Communications

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • Mr. McGeorge Bundy, Special Assistant to the President
  • Llewellyn E. Thompson, Ambassador-at-Large, Department of State
  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, USSR

The President began the conversation by stating he hoped Ambassador Dobrynin observed the fruits of the mutual efforts of our two Governments as reflected in the attitude of our peoples. He said he thought that Chairman Khrushchev and Ambassador Dobrynin, as well as President Kennedy and Ambassador Thompson, deserved much credit for this development.

Ambassador Dobrynin disclaimed any credit, but he agreed that progress had been made. He said the Soviet Government had appreciated President Johnson’s remarks to Mr. Mikoyan. He said that history had [Page 65]made our two countries responsible for much that went on in the world whether we wanted this or not. He said this power was personified in the persons of President Johnson and Chairman Khrushchev.

The President said he was very much aware of the awesome responsibility of the Office of the President of the United States. He had been in office only a few weeks, but his chief concern was how could he benefit the generations to come. He said that if only we were all allies and friends, instead of having suspicions of each other, what a wonderful world it would be. He was trying to find ways to use our vast resources for the good of mankind. What he sought was for our peoples and our governments to feel as comfortable as he felt today in speaking to Ambassador Dobrynin. The President said that his father had often said to him that man’s judgment on any given question was no better than his information on that question. He said that so many world leaders made judgments based on inadequate information. He referred to the agreement on the test ban, the agreement on prohibiting bombs in orbit, and the installation of the direct telephone line, which were but small drops, compared to what needed to be done.

Ambassador Dobrynin said the question was how to proceed further. He said there were many problems, but the Soviet Union desired to improve relations with the United States. He said that speaking frankly, however, the Soviets sometimes felt that this was perhaps not the best year to make big progress, and said, frankly, he was thinking of our elections.

The President observed that this was, in fact, a problem. He said that when Chairman Khrushchev spoke on television on the CBS network in 1958, President Eisenhower had been indignant at the CBS for carrying the broadcast. He said that Eisenhower felt that Mr. Khrushchev was trying to propagandize our people. The President said he had told President Eisenhower that he thought this was a good thing, but there should have been an agreement for reciprocity so that each could have spoken to the other’s people. The President said he called this the “Open Curtain” approach. He said that some day he would like Chairman Khrushchev to speak to the American people and have the American people speak on television to the Soviet people.

Ambassador Dobrynin said that he had been head of the American section at the time the President referred to and that he had been very much involved in the preparations for President Eisenhower’s visit. He said that elaborate arrangements had been in preparation, but the unfortunate incident of the U–2 and other developments had made this impossible.

The President said that we had had other unfortunate incidents. We had had American planes shot down by Soviet planes. He said that he admitted that the Soviets were entitled to be provoked by the fact [Page 66]that our planes had strayed over the line, but the remedy was not to murder people just as the Panamanians should not have shot our soldiers in the dispute over the flag. The President said he had given strict orders that our planes were not to take off unless our Air Force was certain that they would stay on our side of the line. He added, however, that there were occasions when communications broke down, and said that his own plane had been lost for this reason. He said the proper procedure would be to oblige any plane that strayed over to land and the crew could be captured and questioned. He said that if Soviet planes ever came over Oak Ridge or sensitive areas in the United States, we would be provoked, but he thought that the appropriate action would be to force the plane to land. The President said he had gone thoroughly into this matter, which he regretted, and was satisfied that the intrusion was not intentional. He said that he had pointed out to our military that the Russian instruments did not seem to go wrong, and that perhaps our Air Force should get Russian instruments. He said that he had been told, however, that Soviet planes did have similar problems on occasion.

Ambassador Dobrynin said there were international rules to cover this problem and that planes should land when signalled. He said that the Soviet pilots had strict orders not to shoot unless the plane refused to land.

The President said that if any warning had been given, our pilots had not observed it, and it did not appear to have been adequate. He handed the Ambassador a letter to Chairman Khrushchev on this subject.2

The President then went on to say that he was speaking to the press next Monday3 and he wanted to say that he and Chairman Khrushchev had agreed to cut back on the production of fissionable material. The President said he would “catch it” from some of our own people, and pointed out that he was under pressure for more and bigger bombs. People would say that the Chairman had pulled wool over his eyes. The President cited a recent poll in North Dakota, which was a very conservative state. This poll indicated that eighty-one percent of our people approved our sale of wheat to the Soviet Union. This showed the progress which we had already made in improving relations. He said he hoped that Dobrynin could get an answer for him by Monday to his request to be able to say that Chairman Khrushchev was also cutting back on the production of fissionable material.

[Page 67]

Ambassador Dobrynin then pointed out that he had just received Chairman Khrushchev’s reply to the President’s letter on this subject.4 He only had the text in Russian, but, in brief, Chairman Khrushchev agreed that he would stop construction of two plutonium reactors and that we would shut down the four old American reactors. On uranium, the Chairman would decide after he knew what moves were proposed by Britain and France. The Chairman agreed that we could exchange statements on this subject. He did not agree to the proposals about control which should be based on mutual trust, similar to the agreement prohibiting bombs in orbit.

The President emphasized that the best time for him to make this announcement was Monday, and he explained how important the editors to whom he would be talking were in relationship to what he was trying to do. He also referred to the reception in this country to his response to the Chairman’s kind words about him when he had in turn welcomed Mr. Khrushchev’s efforts for peace. He pointed out that the Washington Post carried a good headline, but the Chicago Tribune had headed its article “Johnson Embraces Nikita.” The President said he wondered what made the Soviets think that he could get a commitment from de Gaulle on this subject, but, in any event, he appreciated the compliment. The President instructed Mr. Bundy and Ambassador Thompson to work out the text of what he would say on this subject on Monday, and what he would like to say about Chairman Khrushchev’s intentions in this field. He hoped that he could get a reply in time for his speech.

Emphasizing his concern for progress in the lowering of tensions, the President said that the Soviet Union and the United States had been too close to each other in Cuba, and Ambassador Dobrynin nodded his agreement. The President said that our guard was up and our hand out, that we would not be dupes but that we were ready for further steps.

Ambassador Dobrynin asked what further steps could be taken this year, and made a reference to the Chairman’s proposal of a reduction of troops in Europe. The President did not comment directly on this proposal, but referred again to his proposal for an exchange of television speeches, and said to the Ambassador that as he, the President, had now made two good proposals, it was the turn of the Soviet Union.

While waiting for the photographers to arrive, Ambassador Dobrynin said he had no instructions to raise the subject, but he wondered [Page 68]what had happened by the Civil Air Agreement. He said that it had earlier been indicated that an agreement might be reached by the end of last year.

The President asked Ambassador Thompson how this matter stood.

Ambassador Thompson said we had deferred a decision on this subject until the conclusion of the Consular Agreement, which appeared to be near.

The President, at the end of the conversation, reiterated his birthday greetings to the Chairman,5 and gave a Dobrynin a medallion, which he asked him to transmit to the Chairman.

After the meeting, Mr. Bundy and Ambassador Thompson gave Ambassador Dobrynin the following language for inclusion in the President’s speech, if Chairman Khrushchev agreed:

“I have ordered a further reduction of our production of enriched uranium, fuel for nuclear weapons, by twenty-five percent over a four-year period. This reduction is in addition to the reductions which I announced in the production of both uranium and plutonium in my State of the Union message. And I am happy to say that Chairman Khrushchev has now indicated to me that he intends to make a move in this direction.”

Also after the meeting, Ambassador Dobrynin asked Ambassador Thompson for further particulars about the proposed exchange of television talks.

Ambassador Thompson said that the President had not discussed this subject with him, but he assumed, from earlier consideration of this subject, that it would be important in the Soviet Union for the President’s speech to be carried on radio as well as television since the Soviets did not have a nation-wide TV hookup. He said he also assumed that the text of the statements would probably be exchanged in advance and a date agreed upon. He said he felt sure the President did not wish in any way to embarrass Mr. Khrushchev by making the suggestion if for any reason it was difficult for him to agree to such an exchange at this time, but pointed out that the suggestion was in line with the President’s efforts to achieve better understanding as he had described them during their conversation this morning.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 77 D 163. Secret; Eyes Only; No Other Distribution. Drafted by Thompson and approved by Bundy on April 24. Dobrynin describes the meeting in his memoir, In Confidence, pp. 119–120, calling it “My First Meeting Alone with Johnson.” However, both the memorandum of conversation and the President’s Daily Diary indicate that Thompson and Bundy were present during the meeting. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary. (Johnson Library) In an April 16 briefing memorandum for the President, Bundy proposed discussing the RB–66 incident, the cutback in production of nuclear materials, and Khrushchev’s 70th birthday, but not pressing Dobrynin “on other matters like Vietnam, Laos, or Cuba, on this occasion.” (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, USSR, Dobrynin Conversations, Vol. I)
  2. Document 28.
  3. For text of the President’s address on April 20 to the Associated Press, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–1964, Book I, pp. 493–500.
  4. For text of six messages on cutting the production of fissionable materials, exchanged between Johnson and Khrushchev from February 22 to April 20, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XI, Documents 11, 15, 18, and 22 24.
  5. The birthday message was transmitted in telegram 2997 to Moscow, April 15. (Department of State, S/S-I Limdis/Exdis Microfilm)