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Volume V
Soviet Union

Washington, DC


50. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, March 27, 1961.

/1/Source: Department of State, Presidential Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 66 D 149. Secret. Drafted by Akalovsky and approved in U on March 30 and by the White House on April 5. The meeting was held at the White House.

Laos and US-USSR Relations

The President
Ambassador Stevenson
Acting Secretary Bowles S/B--Mr. Bohlen
EUR--Mr. Kohler
D--Mr. Akalovsky

Mr. Andrei Gromyko, Foreign Minister of the U.S.S.R.
Ambassador Menshikov
Mr. Sukhodrev, Interpreter, U.S.S.R. 'Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

The President opened the conversation by expressing his pleasure in meeting the Foreign Minister and talking with him about matters of mutual interest.

Mr. Gromyko thanked the President for this opportunity to meet him and said that he wanted to convey to the President greetings and best wishes from the head of the Soviet Government, N.S. Khrushchev.

The President thanked Mr. Gromyko.

Mr. Gromyko stated that the Soviet Government knew that the President was very much interested in the Laotian question. It was also familiar with the position of the U.S. Government and the President personally, as expressed in the President's statement, the Thompson-Khrushchev discussion, and the conversation between Secretary Rusk and Mr. Gromyko. Therefore, Mr. Gromyko said, he wished to set forth the views of the Soviet Government, and of Mr. Khrushchev personally, on the Laotian problem. The Soviet Government had recently received the U.K. proposal on Laos,/2/ which was in reply to the proposal of the Soviet Government on the same question, communicated previously to the U.K. Government. The U.K. proposal, as far as the Soviet Government was aware, also reflects the U.S. Government's views.

/2/For text of the British proposal on Laos, March 23, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 994-995.

The President confirmed this statement.

Mr. Gromyko continued by saying that the U.K. proposal was being thoroughly studied by the Soviet Government and that the latter would reply to these proposals very shortly. However, even now the Soviet Government believes that that proposal could serve as a basis for settlement in Laos, a settlement that would ensure peaceful development for the Laotian people and a policy of true neutrality for that country. Now that real ways for a settlement of the Laotian question are in prospect, it is necessary to manifest patience and restraint and not to do anything that might complicate that problem. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R., as great powers, undoubtedly can and must exert positive influence in the settling of the Laotian question by peaceful means, and undoubtedly can and must take steps to prevent the conflict from spreading. As Mr. Khrushchev had said in his conversation with Ambassador Thompson and as he, Mr. Gromyko, had said to Secretary Rusk, the policy of the Soviet Government with regard to the Laotian question is to strive for a truly independent and truly neutral Laos. If the U.S. Government is also for a truly independent and truly neutral Laos, as the Soviet Government is, possibilities exist for settling the Laotian question to the satisfaction of the U.S., the U.S.S.R. and all parties concerned. Mr. Gromyko said that these were the views he had been entrusted to convey to the President personally and to stress their significance.

The President said he appreciated Mr. Gromyko's remarks and expressed hope that this conversation and the Soviet reply to the U.K. proposal would lead to a peaceful settlement of the Laotian question. This is what we want. Mr. Gromyko probably understands that the U.S., as a great power, would be concerned if Laos were taken over by forces hostile to it just as the Soviet Union would probably be concerned if forces hostile to it took over that country. Therefore, it is important to stabilize the situation and prevent its further deterioration. It is for this reason that the U.S. stresses the importance of a cease-fire. The U.S. is concerned that, in the absence of a cease-fire, military activities will continue while the conference is deliberating what form the future Laotian Government should take. Both sides would put in more and more military supplies, which would make the situation all the more difficult. Therefore, the President said, he hoped that the U.K. proposal for a cease-fire would be accepted; what is needed is not only the conference but also a cease-fire. The President then said that he had read the recent Pravda article on the Laotian question and that the article indicated that there might be some ground for understanding. However, a cease-fire is important because, in its absence, Soviet supplies would continue and our supplies would continue, and that would create a more and more intense military situation. Consequently, both sides should do commonly everything to ease the situation.

Mr. Gromyko said that he could reaffirm that, after familiarizing itself with the U.K. proposal, the Soviet Government believed that there was a possibility for settling the Laotian question and that a reply to that proposal would be forthcoming in a short while. He said that he wanted to note that the fact that the U.S. Government had agreed to the convening of an international conference and the international control commission was a positive step. He recalled that when Secretary Rusk had told him about this he had told the Secretary that this was a positive step in the proper direction and that it eased the situation. Mr. Gromyko observed that Secretary Rusk's statement had been made at the end of their 3-hour long conversation.

The President remarked jocularly that Mr. Gromyko was a very persuasive man. He then inquired when, in Mr. Gromyko's judgment, the Soviet reply could be expected, and particularly whether it would be forthcoming this week.

Mr. Gromyko replied that he could give no fixed date but said that it would be in "the nearest future".

The President stated that the situation was inflammatory and that he was anxious to have the Soviet reply as soon as possible. The sooner an understanding was reached, the better off we would be. The military situation would be behind us and efforts to discuss a settlement could begin. He reiterated his concern that the situation might deteriorate and its military aspects might become more intense.

Mr. Gromyko said he wished to reiterate and stress again that it was very important not to do anything that would further complicate the situation. It is particularly important that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. use their influence and prestige so that no action is taken that would complicate the situation and spread the conflict.

The President agreed and emphasized once again that if both sides could come to an understanding, they should do so without delay so as not to expand the conflict but rather diminish it.

Mr. Gromyko said that it was good if the U.S. was taking steps to prevent the situation from deteriorating and to create a more favorable situation in Laos and around it.

The President replied that everything should be done to prevent the conflict from escalating and reiterated that the sooner this was done the better off both sides would be.

Mr. Gromyko observed that it was very good if the U.S. Government was acting in the direction of facilitating the solution of the Laotian problem. He then said that he wanted to ask a specific question relating to the Laotian problem, a question which he had mentioned to Secretary Rusk in Mr. Bohlen's and Mr. Kohler's presence. The question was that of the presence of Chiang Kai-shek's troops in Laos. The Soviet Government had expressed hope that those troops, numbering about 3,000, would be disarmed and withdrawn. Unfortunately, to the Soviet Government's great regret, according to information available to the Soviet Government, no such steps had been taken so far. He said that this was a specific question within the general scope of the Laotian problem, but that he still wanted to mention it.

The President replied that the U.S. also believed that those troops should not be there. He recalled that the troops had come from Burma and that when this question had come up, the U.S. had made strong overtures to Chiang Kai-shek in order to persuade him to withdraw those troops. The President then turned to Mr. Bowles and asked whether there was any recent information on this subject.

The Acting Secretary said that as of a week ago 1,500, or more than one-half of the troops in question had been withdrawn and that the movement was continuing.

The President then reiterated that the U.S. shared the view that there was no reason for those troops to be in Laos. They were an incendiary factor and should be removed.

Mr. Gromyko observed that this was a favorable development and said that the sooner those troops were removed, the better. Their withdrawal would facilitate the settlement of the Laotian problem.

Mr. Gromyko then turned to the general question of US-USSR relations. He recalled that Secretary Rusk had expressed the U.S. Government's views concerning the development of US-USSR relations and the Secretary's statement that the President and the U.S. Government were willing to take steps to improve these relations. In particular, Secretary Rusk had mentioned the possibility of bilateral exchanges of views on certain problems in order to develop US-USSR relations. This, Mr. Gromyko said, was in accord with the desires of the Soviet Government, and he wanted to assure the President that the Soviet Government had always striven and would continue to strive for the development of US-USSR relations. It would be well if some day the point was reached where genuine friendship were established between the two countries. Then both the American and the Soviet peoples could reap the fruits of improved relations.

The President replied that he shared this view and that he hoped that US-USSR relations could be developed. The problem was that of different national interests in some areas, such as Laos and certain other areas. What is necessary is to create an atmosphere where these problems could be settled without approaching the brink of a military situation. The President said that it was important to realize that differences existed in the systems and the national policies of the two countries, but that it was equally important to create an atmosphere where these differences could be settled without moves and countermoves by each of the two sides, and where neither side would have to take a strong stand. The areas where such settlements are necessary are particularly Laos, Africa and Cuba.

Therefore, the President said, he was glad to have had this opportunity to discuss the Laotian question with Mr. Gromyko. It was important to bring about solutions of these problems with due regard to the interests of the two countries and without embarrassing their respective positions or bringing us to the brink of disaster.

Mr. Gromyko said that the President's remarks were of great interest and that the Soviet Government believed the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., as the two greatest powers, possessing the greatest military potential, should in their relations do nothing that might bring us to the brink or to the point of a choice between war and peace. Problems where possibility for settlement exist must be settled peacefully with due regard to the interests of the two countries and of the interests of other states, if such interests are involved. Mr. Gromyko then stated that as Foreign Minister of the U.S.S.R., he considered that this attitude was a proper one and that neither side should do anything that might bring them to the brink. He observed that Ambassador Menshikov surely shared his view.

Responding to the President's invitation to make his observations, Ambassador Stevenson referred to Mr. Gromyko's statement in which he urged that no steps should be taken that would aggravate the situation in Laos. He said that he assumed that this also applied to the Soviet Union.

Mr. Gromyko said that he had stated earlier that both the Soviet Union and the U.S. should do nothing that might complicate the situation in Laos, around Laos, and around the Laotian question.

The President then invited Mr. Gromyko to join him for a private talk on the lawn. The President reported that in the course of that conversation, he had reiterated the urgent need for preventing the Laotian situation from coming to a brink. Recalling the 1914 situation, he said that we should avoid a development where both sides would be moving in. He also said that the Soviet Government should not attempt to push the U.S. Government into a position where the latter's prestige is involved. The President also mentioned briefly the Cuban situation and the belligerent attitude of the Cuban government, as well as the Congo situation, which the U.S. hoped could be resolved peacefully. The President stressed the need for leaving communications channels clear in order to make it possible to reach solutions that would recognize the interests of both sides. The President also touched briefly upon the subject of disarmament and said that he hoped that Mr. Gromyko would be willing to reword his statement in such a way as to indicate that preliminary discussions prior to the resumption of negotiations would also involve countries other than the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. alone. The President said, however, that there would be bilateral discussions with the Soviet Union on that subject. The President said Mr. Gromyko had agreed with him as to the need for peaceful solutions and had expressed hope that there would be a chance for a personal exchange of views between the President and Mr. Khrushchev. As to his proposed statement on disarmament, Mr. Gromyko said that he would discuss this with Ambassador Stevenson in New York.]/3/

/3/These and following brackets are in the source text.

During his conversation with Ambassador Stevenson after the meeting, Ambassador Menshikov, responding to Ambassador Stevenson's query, indicated that the Soviet reply to the U.K. proposal could be expected within three days./4/

/4/On March 30 Gromyko told Stevenson that he found the conversation with the President interesting and useful and his line of thinking "reasonable." (Telegram 2690 from USUN; Department of State, Central Files, 761.13/3-3061)

FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES - 1961-1963 - Volume V - Soviet Union P25

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