311. Memorandum for the Record1

MEETING WITH THE PRESIDENT ON UNITED NATIONS MATTERS

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President, Secretary Rusk, Assistant Secretary Harlan Cleveland, Ambassador Stevenson, McGeorge Bundy, George Reedy, Samuel Belk

Article 19

Ambassador Stevenson opened by saying that we were faced with a particularly difficult problem with the Russians on the matter of Article 19 and that one of the main reasons for our coming to the President was to impress him with the largeness of the problem that confronted us; that it was the worst confrontation we had faced with the Russians since Cuba. The Soviets were in a position of losing their vote in the General Assembly—but not in the Security Council—if they did not pay up, and they had threatened to walk out of the UN if Article 19 were applied. All of this would have to be faced beginning on December 1.

Stevenson noted that France also would face a loss of its vote on January 1, 1965, if its bills were not paid. This would mean a severe deterioration in French relations with the UN; there was a danger that both the French and the Russians would cease paying their bills.

Stevenson said that a number of ways-out were being explored. If the GA continued to allow the Russians to vote, this would be interpreted as a defeat for the U.S. rather than the UN. There were procedural problems also which were being worked upon. The important thing for the U.S., in any case, is to follow a course that would not weaken the Organization. Our prestige in the UN is high but we must continue to look at our approach to financing so that we give only our proper share.

In talking with Congressional leaders, Stevenson thought the President should remind them that winning out on Article 19 might prove to be a pyrrhic victory. In the long run it might be a loss.

Stevenson said some Afro-Asian countries were trying to act as go-betweens on the financial problem. There was a proposal for a fund to which everyone would contribute to save the UN financially; a Soviet payment to this fund could substitute for its arrears. However, there was [Page 670]still a question as to just how to do it. We certainly would have to make it clear to Congress that any money the U.S. might contribute would not be used to pay off Soviet arrears. Hopefully, Stevenson said, we would have this matter worked out by December 1. We would need a 2/3 majority vote to support our proposal and he was not sure we had it.

The President asked how we could get the 2/3 vote.

Stevenson said we were working on it; that the smaller countries were somewhat intimidated and also rather casual about constitutionality. Many did not believe in the automaticity of Article 19. He thought this represented more than the majority of the membership.

The President asked if there was anything we should be doing that we are not doing to get the 2/3 vote.

Secretary Rusk reminded the President that he had only on Monday sent out a letter to foreign ministers2 explaining our position on Article 19. He also pointed out that we already had a vote of 75–19 (sic) in the GA in support of the World Court opinion on financing and it might be helpful to go back to those 75 again. The Secretary said it was a difficult issue and recalled the difficulties involved when we took the bond issue to the Congress. We had told other governments of this problem and warned them that they should not take us for granted. He hoped the matter might be successfully dealt with before the GA. He recalled the “troika” proposal which was presented to the GA by Kruschchev himself3 but, when faced with an overwhelming vote against it, the Russians gave it up.

The President then asked what might be said to the press and it was agreed that George Reedy would say that the meeting was a periodical review of what our approach would be to a number of subjects that were on the UN agenda, but avoid any emphasis being placed on any one item; especially Article 19, lest the President appear in the press as fighting the Cold War with the Russians. (Reedy left the meeting at this point.)

Stevenson said there was a growing feeling at the UN that payment for peacekeeping should not be imposed on a power over its objection. There was some validity to this view, but this was a matter of future planning. He did not think this was understood by the Congress. The fact was that we are not confident of the 2/3 vote. We might win but there would be many abstentions—exactly what we did not want. He noted that one of the late reports had said that Thailand would vote against us.

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The Secretary felt we must stay strong and that the Russians might change—we must hold out right down the line until December 1.

Stevenson felt that the Congressional leaders should be cautioned not to cut off their noses to spite their faces; that we must not take the position that we will not support peacekeeping just because the Russians don’t.

However, Stevenson felt the tenor of the meeting with the President had been that of a “lost cause”; this was not the case. It was not easy to handle. The newspapers would interpret any move the U.S. or the USSR made as a loss of prestige, the weakening or strengthening of one side or the other.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Chinese representation issue; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXX, Document 66.]

Samuel E. Belk
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Bundy Files, Memos of Conversation, 1964–1966. Secret.
  2. The text was transmitted in circular telegram 934, November 16. (Ibid., Department of State Administrative History, Vol. 2, part 5)
  3. For the text of Khrushchev’s September 23, 1960, speech to the United Nations that included a proposal to replace the Secretary General with a three-man executive composed of representatives of the Eastern, Western, and neutral blocs, see UN doc. A/PV. 869.