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102. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, June 26, 1961, 10:15 a.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, President's Office Files, USSR. Confidential.

On Monday morning at 10:15 a.m., June 26, 1961, the President met with Aleksey Adzhubey, Editor of Izvestia; Mikhail Kharlamov, Chief of the Press Division of the Soviet Foreign Office; and Georgi Bolshikov, Editor of USSR and former Washington correspondent of the TASS News Agency who acted as interpreter.

The President began the discussion by asking Mr. Adzhubey if he had made any progress in his conversation with me relative to improving communications on the journalist level. Mr. Adzhubey replied that we had made progress and that he was looking forward to receiving a memorandum from me on the subject.

The President then said he had read with interest Premier Khrushchev's speech in the Soviet Union yesterday/2/ in which the Soviet Premier had described the United States as a "worn out runner" and predicted the Soviet Union would surpass us economically in 1970.

/2/For text of Khrushchev's speech on June 25, see Pravda, June 26, 1961.

The President cited a number of figures to the Soviets showing that their economic growth estimates were impossible--that the USSR could not pass us by 1970-1978. These figures showed that in 1913 when Russia was under the czars, their Gross National Product (GNP) was 43% of the United States. In 1959 it was 47%. He said by the best possible estimates of Soviet growth and the lowest possible estimates of United States growth, the Soviet Union's GNP would be only 62% by 1978. He said this in itself would be a remarkable advance for the Soviet people and would bring them to a standard of living comparable to that of the United States in 1960. The President said that this was the area of competition that we should engage in. He said that the Soviet Union should not force us into a war. The President said that we should all be around in 1978 to see whether or not Mr. Khrushchev's estimates were true.

Mr. Adzhubey interrupted to say that the Soviet Union figured on increasing from 11% to 11-1/2% while the President computed it at 6%. The President said that the Russians were entitled to their figures as we were also entitled to ours and that we would guarantee a world at peace to allow us to find out who is right. The President said it was like the story of a high-jumper: progressing from one foot to six feet could be done very easily but from six feet up the progress can be only measured in inches.

The President said he could not understand why the Soviet Premier wanted to force the United States out of Berlin. He said that West Berlin was a symbol for Americans and that if we gave up our rights in Berlin he would be impeached by the American people. Mr. Adzhubey replied by saying that he did not believe that he would be impeached. Adzhubey continued by saying that the Soviet Union merely wanted to make a treaty with East Berlin; they did not want to force the United States out of West Berlin but wanted the right to have Russian troops in West Berlin. The President pointed out that the subject of a treaty with East Germany was not the issue. He said that he had read Mr. Ulbricht's statements recently where Mr. Ulbricht was threatening to shut off access to East Berlin; threatened to close Templehof Airport and that the United States could not and would not stand for this. The President said the United States and the Soviet Union were the two most powerful nations in the world. Why should they fight and leave everything to the rest of the world--including the Chinese.

In relation to the subject of Soviet troops in West Berlin the President said he had not yet heard any proposal for allowing American troops in East Berlin. The President said that when the war came to a close perhaps the lines could have been drawn so that matters would be different now. But the lines were drawn as they were and the United States has long-standing commitments to West Berlin and it cannot go back on these commitments. Mr. Adzhubey said that he could not understand all the concern in the United States over West Berlin; the Soviet Union had proposed that Berlin become a free city; that French, American, British, Soviet, Swedish and Indian troops be allowed in West Berlin. The President said that reading Mr. Ulbricht's remarks he did not think that Mr. Ulbricht grasped the real significance of a "free city". Under Mr. Ulbricht's proposal, Berlin would not be a free city. The President said that if the Soviet Union was so desirous of West Berlin being a free city, why didn't the Soviet Union just keep the "status quo" because West Berlin is, in effect, now a free city. Again the President said he heard no proposal by the Soviet Union to allow American troops into East Berlin. He also pointed out that West Berlin had not become a part of the Federal Republic while East Berlin had been incorporated into the East German Democratic Republic.

The President said that American forces in West Berlin were token in nature--10,000 men--a symbol of our commitments; that we were going to maintain these commitments.

The President reiterated the hope that the United States could live in peace with the Soviet Union and that that had been his hope since taking office.

The President pointed out that American troops had not been sent into Laos and Cuba (in the latter case, there was a desire by the American people to do so). Mr. Adzhubey said he understood this; the Soviet Union had not sent troops into Laos either.

Mr. Adzhubey concluded the conversation by saying that perhaps the Soviet Union could also send a token force into West Berlin--17 nurses. The President laughingly said that perhaps it could be worked out.

The President then took Mr. Adzhubey, Mr. Kharlamov and Mr. Bolshikov into the Fish Room where he showed them the model boat which Mr. Khrushchev sent to him. Mr. Adzhubey said that our exchanges should be in boats of this type.

Pierre Salinger/3/
Press Secretary
to the President

/3/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

 

103. Editorial Note

In a report transmitted to President Kennedy on June 28, 1961, Special Consultant Dean Acheson contended that the issue over Berlin was far more than an issue over that city. "It has become an issue of resolution between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., the outcome of which will go far to determine the confidence of Europe--indeed, of the whole world--in the United States." Until the Russians were shown that what they want to do was not possible, Acheson stated, "no negotiation can accomplish more than to cover with face-saving devices submission to Soviet demands." It was necessary to devise "a course of conduct which will change the present apparent Russian disbelief that the United States would go to nuclear war over Berlin, rather than submit." For text of Acheson's report, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume XIV, pages 138-159.

In National Security Action Memorandum No. 58, June 30, President Kennedy instructed the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury to submit recommendations for possible military, economic, and other actions against the Soviet Bloc should the latter increase tension over Berlin. For text of the NSAM, see ibid., pages 162-165. Alternative strategies for dealing with Berlin were discussed at a National Security Council meeting on July 13 and at a meeting of the Steering Group that followed. Secretaries Rusk and McNamara favored proceeding with all measures not requiring the declaration of a national emergency. For text of the memorandum of discussion, see ibid., pages 192-194.

The Steering Group again discussed Berlin at a meeting just prior to the National Security Council meeting on July 19. According to the minutes, Secretary Rusk "indicated his support for a military program with three characteristics: 1. A present build-up; 2. A capability to stop DDR troops by the end of 1961; 3. An ability to fight conventional war for several weeks against Soviet forces, at the same point in time." In National Security Action Memorandum No. 62, July 24, Kennedy authorized a "prompt strengthening of the United States military position, including giving the U.S. "the capability of deploying as many as six additional divisions and supporting air units to Europe at any time after January 1, 1962, that the international situation many warrant it." For text of the Steering Group minutes and NSAM No. 62, see ibid., volume XIV, pages 219-222 and 225-226.

In a speech to the nation the evening of July 25, President Kennedy stated that the United States "cannot and will not permit the Communists to drive us out of Berlin." He outlined six steps the United States would take in the military field "to meet this threat to peace." For text of the speech, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pages 533-540. In telegram 323 to the Department of State, July 28, the Moscow Embassy reported that in a meeting with John McCloy the previous day Chairman Khrushchev stated that the "President in effect had declared preliminary war on Sovs because he had presented Sovs with ultimatum and had said if ultimatum not accepted that would mean war. Sovs regretted President took this course, but accepted challenge and would not change policy directed at signing peace treaty." For text of telegram 323, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume XIV, pages 231-234.

 

104. Editorial Note

A report prepared by an Ad Hoc Committee of the United States Intelligence Board and approved by the USIB on July 11, 1961, assessed the extent of Sino-Soviet Bloc military collaboration with the Castro regime in Cuba. The report concluded that the Soviet Bloc was extending "considerable military assistance to Cuba in the form of military equipment, training, and technicians and advisers." Soviet Bloc military equipment, together with purchases from Western sources, had contributed substantially to a major military buildup, strengthening Castro's dictatorship and giving him ground forces that were "probably now better equipped than those of any Latin American country." His regime provided "a better base of operations for subversion and propaganda throughout Latin America than the Soviets have ever had." For text of the report, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume X, pages 621-624.

 

FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES - 1961-1963 - Volume V - Soviet Union P59

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