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Volume V
Soviet Union

Washington, DC


10. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State/1/

Moscow, January 21, 1961, 7 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 761.5411/1-2161. Secret; Priority. On January 20 Thompson reported that Khrushchev wanted to see him the following day and asked for guidance. (Telegram 1688 from Moscow; ibid., 123 Thompson) In its reply the same day the Department of State said that in view of the timing of the meeting, Khrushchev could not expect the Ambassador to have prepared positions and suggested that Thompson go primarily to listen to what the Chairman had to say. (Telegram 1171 to Moscow; ibid.)

1707. Eyes only Secretary. After offering congratulations inauguration President and hope there would be better US-Soviet relations than in past, Khrushchev had Kuznetsov read aide-memoire (text Embassy telegram 1706)./2/ When Kuznetsov had finished, Khrushchev said he would like to add that Soviets ready release fliers immediately, as soon as appropriate notification received from US that we were in agreement with Soviet position. He said it was still Soviet position that there was intrusion Soviet territorial waters and it was a Soviet right shoot down plane and Soviets would continue such action if further intrusions. If US agrees with Soviet aide-memoire Soviets will release fliers. If not, only logical outcome would be to organize a trial although Soviets recognize this would only lead to further exacerbation situation.

/2/Document 9.

I replied that I appreciate spirit in which proposal made but at pres-ent moment old administration had gone and I as yet had no instructions from new and therefore what I said would have to be on personal basis. Of course I was prepared transmit proposal to Government but at risk seeming ungrateful wanted point out certain considerations. As Chairman knew, our position is that plane did not violate Soviet territory and we prepared submit case to international arbitration in order solve difficult situation. However, this did not change fact that we would like fliers back and I thought I could be sure President Kennedy also would like forget past and make new start, and utilize opportunity change of administration for this purpose. As I understood it however fliers would only be released if we expressed agreement Soviet point of view. Khrushchev thought I had misunderstood and had thought we were supposed to agree with Soviet version of incident. I explained this not case but pointed out there were two problems involved in his proposal. Judging from President's statements during campaign there would appear to be little doubt about his intention not approve violations Soviet frontiers by overflights. Aide-memoire however referred to dropping UNGA agenda items, and I assumed that it meant on our side resolutions on Hungary and Tibet. I said he should realize difficult position in which he would put President if he insisted upon making bargain which involved these fliers where we thought our position right and other matters. Khrushchev made clear each side was free to maintain its point of view regarding incident and he simply asked that we not attempt exploit release of fliers against them. He intimated that upon their return they could be made to say things which would exacerbate relations. I said we had once made clear we would not do this but pointed out we had free press and there would doubtless be some publicity. With regard question exploitation Khrushchev said this was reason aide-memoire had referred to my conversation./3/ He said they realized we had free press but wished point out their press also free and said if not how could they have published such thing as article referring to eleven missing airmen./4/ He grinned and said "you were not slow to pounce on this" and added of course article nothing but carelessly written novel. I pointed out that of course much time had passed since my conversation to which he had referred. He acknowledged this but said frankly they had not wished release these fliers to Eisenhower administration for if they had Nixon would have exploited it during campaign. In order illustrate how I thought matter should be handled I told him of suggestion I had submitted that President make statement about overflights at his January 25 press conference and assume Soviets would release fliers. With great glee he said he had taken action first. He then went on to explain that there was no link between question of fliers and dropping agenda items. He said offer to release fliers was not subject to conditions and that aide-memoire would not be published. I said it was necessary to be clear what was expected of US. Was I to understand that if President either informed them or said publicly that he had no intention to send planes across their frontier, fliers would be released? Khrushchev said that if President were to add to such statement regarding overflights that US wanted good relations not only with Soviets but with all governments, this would be favorably received by them.

/3/For a report on this conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1958-1960, vol. X, Part 1, pp. 547-549.

/4/Khrushchev is referring to an article in Ogonek, January 15, 1961, which stated that 11 of the crew of a U.S. C-130, shot down over Soviet Armenia on September 2, 1958, were captured near Yerevan.

I said that at time fliers were released this would be news and it would be necessary to understand clearly what would be said to press. Khrushchev suggested we work out problem with Soviet Foreign Minister in order that we both say same thing. Unclear whether this would be joint statement or agreed position.

On agenda items he said they did not wish to start off Assembly discussions by arguing cold war matters with Stevenson. They had their own cold war agenda items but such discussion would spoil relations.

Comment: Recommend we reply accepting Soviet proposal re fliers and state that UN agenda items will be subject further discussion. Somewhat difficult define precisely what Soviet proposal is but I understand two factors involved. (1) We accept in some form their interpretation new President's position re overflights; (2) we give at least oral assurance to endeavor not exploit release of men against them. Since President will probably have to take public position on overflight policy, it might be handled at his press conference where distinction between U-2 and RB-47 can be made clear. Anticipate difficulty reaching agreed position with Foreign Office although think they clearly understand that each side will maintain its position on facts RB-47 incident.

Other topics in separate telegrams./5/

/5/In telegram 1708, January 21, Thompson reported briefly on the Congo and Laos. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/1-2161) In telegram 1709 Thompson reported that he had asked Khrushchev whether he had read the President's inaugural address. The Chairman replied that he had and would have the Soviet papers publish the full text, since he had seen several constructive things in it. (Ibid., 711.11-KE/1-2161)

I am telling press here only that interview concerned Soviet-American relations.



11. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union/1/

Washington, January 23, 1961, 5:57 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 761.5411/1-2361. Secret; Niact. Drafted by Kohler on January 23 and approved by Rusk. Also printed in Declassified Documents, 1977, 73B.

1180. Eyes only for Ambassador. Immediately following telegram contains text of Aide-Memoire/2/ for delivery to Khrushchev in your discretion either directly or through Foreign Minister. You may in delivering this communication assure the Soviet Government that we have no intention of exploiting the release of the Air Force officers to the detriment of Soviet-American relations. There will inevitably be some publicity but to the extent possible we will seek to minimize undesirable aspects. We would hope that release can be arranged prior to President's press conference scheduled for 6 pm Jan 25./3/ Arrangements should be made for them to be accompanied out of the Soviet Union by Air Attaché or representative and Embassy doctor. Air Force will send separate instructions regarding specific arrangements for delivery of released officers.

/2/Document 12.

/3/For a transcript of the President's press conference on January 25, in which he stated that the release of the RB-47 flyers removed "a serious obstacle to improvement of Soviet-American relations," and that American flights penetrating the air space of the Soviet Union would not be resumed, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 8-17.

A statement by President at press conference would be limited to first two sentences of Aide-Memoire. If questions asked, he would state position in second paragraph of Aide-Memoire as respects distinction between RB-47 and U-2 and non-resumption of flights of American aircraft into or over Soviet territory. Beyond this he would in response to questions reiterate hope for improved relationship along lines his inaugural address/4/ and message of Jan 21 to Khrushchev/5/ as referred to in Aide-Memoire.

/4/For text of the President's inaugural address, January 20, see ibid., pp. 1-3.

/5/For text, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. VI, p. 3.

While we have considered desirable to make clear in Aide-Memoire we are not prepared to seek withdrawal of specific UN items, we have no intention, as President stated in his inaugural speech of "belaboring those problems which divide us." Clearly the nature of the debates at the resumed UN session would reflect the international atmosphere prevailing at that time. It would be our hope that this would be improved over atmosphere characterizing first phase of the current session.

We fully agree that the Aides-Memoire exchanged should not be published. On our side comment on this exchange will be limited to the President's remarks at the press conference on the lines stated above plus announcement with factual information regarding the physical release and travel of the airmen. We hope latter can be coordinated with Soviet Govt. Report urgently.



12. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union/1/

Washington, January 23, 1961, 6:56 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 761.5411/1-2361. Confidential; Verbatim Text. Also printed in Declassified Documents, 1977, 73C.

1181. Eyes only for Amb. Thompson. Aide-Memoire.

The United States Government is gratified by the decision of the Soviet Government to release Captain Freeman B. Olmstead and Captain John R. McKone, members of the crew of the United States Air Force RB-47 aircraft who have been detained by the Soviet authorities since July 1, 1960. The United States Government considers that this action of the Soviet Government removes a serious obstacle to improvement of Soviet-American relations.

The Soviet Government is fully aware of the United States Government views with respect to the distinction between the question of the United States Air Force RB-47 and the incident which occurred over Soviet territory on May 1, 1960, involving an American U-2 type aircraft. Flights of American aircraft penetrating the air space of the Soviet Union have been suspended since May 1960 and President Kennedy has ordered that they not be resumed.

As respects the stated willingness of the Soviet Government not to insist on discussion at the resumed Fifteenth Session of the United Nations General Assembly of the Soviet inscribed item "concerning aggressive actions of the USA," it would not seem feasible to the United States Government to seek to remove specific items already included on the General Assembly agenda. However the United States Government believes that in so far as possible the work of the United Nations should be approached in a constructive manner and that restraint should be exercised in debating matters of difference between member states. The United States Delegation to the resumed session will approach its tasks in this spirit.

As was stated in the inaugural address of the President of the United States and reiterated in his message to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers and the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of January 21, the United States Government shares the hope expressed by the Soviet Government that progress can be made toward improving the relationship between the two countries and toward common efforts of both governments designed to assure a peaceful and more fruitful life for all mankind. The United States Government, for its part, will do everything within its power to promote these high purposes.

While the United States Government will naturally wish to study carefully and deliberately the broader international issues, it is prepared to proceed without delay to practical first steps in the field of relations between the United States and the USSR. In this connection, the United States suggests a prompt review through diplomatic channels of proposals presented by either side./2/ The United States Government is ready, for example, at the early convenience of the Soviet Government to undertake the negotiations with regard to an air transport agreement which were postponed in July 1960. The United States Government would also be pleased to proceed expeditiously to renewed consideration of the proposal which has been previously discussed between the two governments for the establishment of a United States Consulate General at Leningrad and of a Soviet Consulate General at New York./3/

/2/For a statement by Secretary Rusk on January 23 along similar lines, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, p. 560.

/3/On January 24 Thompson reported that he had delivered the aide-memoire to Kuznetzov at 11:30 a.m. that day and had suggested that the fliers leave Moscow on January 25. (Telegram 1729 from Moscow; Department of State, Central Files, 761.5411/1-2461) In a later telegram Thompson stated that Kuznetzov had discussed the question with Khrushchev who agreed to the release on January 25 and transmitted the text of a statement that the Soviet Government would issue unilaterally the following day concerning the release. (Telegram 1735 from Moscow; ibid.; printed in Declassified Documents, 1977, 73D)



FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES - 1961-1963 - Volume V - Soviet Union P 5

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