52. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to the President’s Assistant for Domestic Affairs (Ehrlichman)1
- Comment on Suggested Invitation to Khrushchev
I am afraid Bill Safire is being optimistic when he calculates that his suggestion has one chance in a hundred of working out.2 I do not [Page 173] think there is any chance that the Soviets would permit Khrushchev to come to the US for a reunion of the participants of the 1959 “Kitchen Debate,”3 and in fact I recommended against sending an invitation, for the following reasons:
- Khrushchev is close to being an un-person in the USSR. In a great advance over past Soviet practices, he is still alive and is fed and housed in comfort. But he is a political pariah, allowed one brief and closely guarded public appearance each November to vote in his local district elections. Knowing Khrushchev’s penchant for oratory, the Soviets would never permit him to travel abroad, especially to the US.
- Furthermore, since Khrushchev was deposed by a coup in 1964, it would be diplomatically unwise either to ask the current Kremlin leaders—who were his deposers—to let him come to Washington, or to circumvent them by asking Khrushchev directly. (As you may know, the present leaders have bridled at previous attempts by prominent Americans to contact Khrushchev.)
In general I recommend that you place the major emphasis in your plans on the tenth anniversary of the first US national exhibit in Moscow and the President’s trip to the Soviet Union, rather than on the “Kitchen Debate” per se. While we look back on the episode with a certain nostalgia, the Soviets do not regard the Nixon–Khrushchev encounter as one of the high points in Soviet-American relations. In fact the “Kitchen Debate” was associated in the past with a strong anti-Nixon line in the Soviet press—now conveniently forgotten. Because of these overtones, the Soviets might not even let Ambassador Dobrynin participate unless we characterize the occasion as commemorating the President’s trip as a whole (rather than only the “Kitchen Debate”).
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 709, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. II. No classification marking. Sent for information. Drafted by Lesh on June 2. Sent under a covering memorandum from Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger with the recommendation that he sign it. Kissinger signed the memorandum; an invitation to Khrushchev was apparently never issued.↩
- On May 28, William Safire, speechwriter to President Nixon, sent the following message to Haldeman and Ehrlichman: “Here is a far-out thought with a chance in a hundred of working out. We are planning some kind of reunion celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Kitchen Conference on July 24. What about approaching the Soviet[s] about inviting Khrushchev? Not so wild as it sounds—they might just go along if it suits their interests.” (Ibid.)↩
- Nixon attended the American Exhibition in Moscow in July 1959. During a stop in the model kitchen at the Exhibition, Nixon and Khrushchev had an impromptu debate, over the relative merits of each nation’s economic system. Nixon’s description of the “Kitchen Debate” is in RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, pp. 208–209.↩