21. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • RB–66


  • Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, USSR
  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Philip ValdesEUR/SOV

The Secretary said he wanted to talk to Ambassador Dobrynin about the RB–66 fliers, since this could be troublesome.2 He said that the plane was not where it was supposed to be. There is no denial of this, and we have already expressed our regret. How it got where it did is still a deep mystery. We have sent senior officers to make a full investigation, and have checked everything out as far as we could, short of actually talking with the crew.

The plane was on a mission from Touls to just short of the North Sea. At 1358 the plane reported it was over its destination and was turning. At 1400, two minutes later, it was attacked. When it reported, therefore, it was already 150 miles off its course without knowing it. How the plane managed to make a 90 degree turn and not know it was lost we cannot explain.

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The Secretary said that the first point he wanted to make, therefore, was a solemn statement, for the U.S. Government, that the plane was not engaged in any mission in East Germany. Apart from our policy, which would preclude this, we have looked into the briefing and flight plan for this specific flight. We have the impression that the Soviet Government is in the process of deciding what to do. It is therefore important that Khrushchev know that the plane was off course, that we regret this, and that we have expressed our regrets.

The Secretary said that the second point he wanted to make was that he thought that the Soviet military had acted too fast in shooting down the plane. When Ambassador Dobrynin commented they were merely following orders, the Secretary replied that in that case the orders called for them to act too fast. He said there is quite a gap between Soviet orders and ours. We give signals, and help the plane turn back. Ambassador Dobrynin said the Soviets do the same. The Secretary replied that they had not in this case. Unlike the T–39 case, we had some communication with the RB–66, and if they had been aware of any signals, we would have heard from them.

Ambassador Dobrynin commented that someone had told him in connection with the T–39 case that there had been no warning, and then had to say he was wrong two days later. Perhaps when the US speaks with the fliers in this case, they will also find they were wrong.

The Secretary said that there have been intrusions in both directions, and suggested that at some stage we ought perhaps to talk about procedures. Perhaps we would find, he added, that the Soviet procedures are better.

As a third point, the Secretary noted that US medical officers have seen one of the fliers. He said that we appreciate the fact that he is getting good medical care, but do think the Soviets ought to give the fliers back promptly. If it were the other way around, we would have no problem in dealing with it as accidental. It is important that the Soviets not try to create an incident that is not there, but treat it as an accident, for it would eat into other matters, and it should not be allowed to do that. If the fliers are returned, there should not be any matter of prestige, since this would be in the same category as helping people in distress at sea. The Secretary said he was certain the Soviet military people could confirm what he had said about the plane being off course. He strongly urged Dobrynin to pass to Khrushchev and Gromyko his earnest hope that they release the fliers and get the case over with, since it is not worth the irritations it would create.

Ambassador Dobrynin said he would inform Gromyko. He added that he had no new information, and could only confirm what was in the Soviet note of March 11.

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The Secretary said that after the last incident, one of the things that made this one so inexplicable was that we had taken measures to prevent any recurrence. Now, we are taking drastic measures.

Dobrynin repeated that he would pass the Secretary’s statements to Moscow.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 31–1 GER E–US. Confidential. Drafted by Valdes and approved in S on March 19. The meeting was held in Secretary Rusk’s office.
  2. For text of notes exchanged between the United States and Soviet Union concerning the incident, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pp. 528–531.