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