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36. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, February 24, 1961.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/2-2461. Confidential. Drafted and initialed by Bohlen.

Luncheon with Ambassador Menshikov

Ambassador Menshikov
Mr. M.N. Smirnovsky, Minister Counselor, Soviet Embassy
Mr. Charles E. Bohlen, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State

While the conversation ranged, as it had in the past, over many subjects, it was clear that the chief purpose of the invitation to lunch was to endeavor to find out exactly what "instructions" Ambassador Thompson was taking back to Moscow, with particular emphasis on disarmament and the question of "normalization" of trade. I explained to Menshikov that Thompson's consultations here had been of an exploratory and background nature and that it was too soon for any specific or concrete proposals to be made on these two or other subjects; that Mr. McCloy was working on an examination of the entire disarmament picture, but it would be some time before definite conclusions could be reached.

On trade, I told him that the Soviets must understand that under our system of separation of powers, the President could not direct Congress and tell it what to do, (this is an old subject of discussion with Menshikov) and that in regard to trade, most of the limitations were embodied in legislation which would require new laws to change, and that the Congressional reaction to effecting such change was at best problematic in the absence of some indication that there was to be an improvement in relations.

I referred, in this connection, to the abortive attempt last year to settle the lend lease problem as a first step in a program of removing such limitations. Menshikov on this point adhered to the previous position that there could be no discussion of lend lease settlement unless accompanied, simultaneously, with negotiations for the removal of limitations and the granting of credits./2/ At the conclusion of this part of the discussion, Menshikov said that it would appear that the United States position had not changed, and that he "did not envy Mr. Thompson if this was all he would have to say on this subject." I told him it would be a mistake to regard any previous position as that necessarily of the new Administration, but that the objective factors which I had outlined were still there to be dealt with.

/2/On February 22 Menshikov had made the same points in a dinner conversation with Secretary of Commerce Hodges (memorandum of conversation, February 23; ibid., 611.61/2-2361) and a letter to Rusk, February 24 (ibid., 601.6111/2-2461).

The following is a brief outline of the other subjects covered:

1. Laos. Menshikov repeated that he had told you that our proposal on Laos was "one-sided" and did not take into consideration the attitude of "the other side."/3/ I told him that President Kennedy had said, in his Inaugural speech, we should concentrate on those areas where we might be able to concentrate on those elements in which we seem to have a common view as against belaboring those which divided us, and in this situation we had one point in common; namely, the desirability of the neutralization of Laos, and that an exchange of views which Thompson was authorized to have as to how this principle could be given effect in the mutually acceptable manner would be worthwhile. Menshikov agreed but kept returning to his thesis of the "one-sided" nature of our suggestion.

/3/See Document 34.

During the discussion, Smirnovsky made an interesting remark in which he said, "How could Laos be neutral without the inclusion of some communists in the Government?" I pointed out that by definition, any communist-controlled or influenced government could not be neutral, unless I had misread all of the statements that had recently come out on the aims of the communist move. He seemed to realize that he had made a mistake and rather lamely referred to the presence of communists in the Italian and French Governments at the end of the war. (I believe this inadvertent remark by Smirnovsky reveals where the main problem will lie in regard to any future Laotian Government.

Menshikov said he had been informed by you of our opposition to the idea of a conference and could not see why we were opposed to it. I told him that it appeared to us to be a mechanism for the exacerbation of the situation in Laos rather than a practical method of handling it.

2. Germany and Berlin. Menshikov asked me if Thompson would raise the question of Berlin, to which I replied that since they, and not we, were seeking a change in the present circumstances, this was not a question we would raise. He then asked what Thompson's view would be in the event that Khrushchev raised it. I told him that beyond the very obvious elements of the United States position, which would not be subject to change, Thompson had no specific instructions. These elements, as I saw them, were:

(a) We were not prepared to accept anything in regard to West Berlin which would derogate or impair the position of the Western Powers in that city which was ours by right, reinforced by agreement.

(b) The Soviet Union should understand that it would not be possible for the United States or its allies to accept a political or diplomatic defeat over Berlin, and

(c) Finally, that, of course, Thompson would report, confidentially, whatever views Mr. Khrushchev chose to give him.

I added, on my own, that I thought the whole situation in Germany was abnormal, including Berlin as a city, and that you could not claim one part alone--West Berlin--as abnormal, to be dealt with in isolation; adding that, personally, I could not see why the existing situation in Berlin could not be left alone even if the Soviet Union felt it essential to make some arrangement of a peace treaty nature with East Germany, which, of course, we would not approve or recognize but this was essentially their business. Menshikov did not pursue the subject of Berlin further.

3. On the Congo. Menshikov raised, himself, their attitude toward Hammarskjold, saying that here we had a profound and deep difference--with which I agreed. He said he could well understand our support of Hammarskjold since he was "our man," to which I replied it was difficult to see how any individual could have been more objective and neutral than Hammarskjold, and that the Soviet denial of the possibility of a genuinely objective or neutral figure in an international position was an extremely serious one which would have an effect on any form of control of inspection in the disarmament field or nuclear test bans and one to which I did not see much of an answer if they persisted in this attitude.

4. Test Negotiation. Menshikov agreed that the nuclear tests negotiations might afford the first real opportunity to agree on something, but did not go into any detail of the unresolved issue except to state that too many on-site inspections would be a reflection of suspicion and distrust, which would be a bad thing. I told him that on the contrary, that if we were to be realistic and serious, that an excess of assurance for verifying the mutual observance of such an agreement was infinitely preferable to inadequate assurance, pointing out, in this connection, that any agreement would have to attain the support of Congress if it were to be adopted by this Government.

In general, the conversation followed along the standard lines of previous talks I have had with Menshikov, with the exception of his intense interest in finding out whether Thompson was taking back something "concrete" in the way of propositions. He seemed to be disappointed when I told him that Thompson would have no new proposals but was thoroughly familiar with the President's thinking on the general subject of our relations with the Soviet Union and that the possibility to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding through exchange of views of a quiet, unpublicized nature would be a great step forward. It would seem clear from this that Menshikov, at least, rather expected that Thompson would go back with some startling new proposals in some form or other following his consultations here.

The subject of any meeting between Khrushchev and the President was not raised by Menshikov at any time and I, of course, did not do so.


FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES - 1961-1963 - Volume V - Soviet Union P17

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