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47. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, March 18, 1961, 1 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/3-1861. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Akalovsky and approved by Bohlen, Kohler, and in S on June 28. The conversation took place in the Secretary of State's private dining room. Gromyko was in the United States to attend the resumed session of the United Nations General Assembly.


U.S.-Soviet Relations, etc.

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

Mr. Andrei Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
Mr. Arkadiy Sobolev, Deputy Foreign Minister
Ambassador Menshikov
Mr. Smirnovski, Counselor, Sov. Emb.
Mr. Grubyakov, Counselor, USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Sukhodrev, Interpreter, USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs

During the luncheon, the conversation was of a social nature.

Toward the end of the luncheon the Secretary rose to pronounce a toast. He said that he had not had the pleasure of visiting the Soviet Union although he had seen the harbor of Leningrad when he was a young student. He had made several round trips between London and Leningrad on a Soviet steamer but had not been allowed to go ashore in Leningrad. This was the least expensive way to spend vacations and everybody had a marvelous time. The Secretary said that it was well known that the hospitality of the Soviet Government and the Soviet people were unexcelled anywhere in the world. The Secretary expressed the hope that during the luncheon, and also perhaps later, useful discussion could take place with the assistance of aides as desired. He then welcomed Mr. Gromyko to Washington. Mr. Gromyko, the Secretary said, was at home in Washington because he had been Ambassador here at the time when the US and the USSR were working together to achieve victory over the common enemy. The Secretary then raised his glass to the development of friendship and of solidarity of interests between the US and the USSR.

Mr. Gromyko, in reply to the toast, said that he had indeed seen the US before and not only from a ship. (Ambassador Menshikov interjected that this had been an exception.) Mr. Gromyko then said that the Soviet Union also desired a constructive development of relations between the US and the USSR, and that he saw no other way to achieve that objective than to sit down and discuss all the problems involved. He then raised his glass to the strengthening and development of ties between the US and the USSR so that later, perhaps not in the distant future, the fruits of the labors could be seen; namely, closer and friendlier relations between the US and the USSR.

Mr. Stevenson said that he wanted to add a postscript to Mr. Gromyko's toast and recalled that in 1945 Mr. Gromyko had said in London that he wanted to be in a position to raise a toast to the UN when it had teeth. Of course, in 1945 the UN was in a state of infancy, but now that the UN does have teeth, the Soviet Union doesn't seem to like it. Mr. Gromyko replied that some teeth grew in the wrong direction and caused pain.

The Secretary then stated that before leaving the table he wanted to say that the new Administration hoped very much that the relations between the Soviet Union and the US could be improved on a serious and mutually advantageous basis. The US realized that there were a number of serious problems between the two Governments which should be thought about. Also, there were a number of lesser questions which should not be too difficult to resolve, and which were worth our attention. He said that what he had in mind was the fact that certain individuals were being held, for various reasons, in the respective countries. He noted that the US was gratified that the USSR had released the RB-47 fliers. The Secretary then expressed hope that progress could be achieved in several other areas, such as conclusion of a civil air agreement, conclusion of a consular agreement restoring consular activities in the two countries, and in the field of exchanges both on the technical level and of tourists. The Secretary remarked facetiously that the US needed dollars and that therefore it hoped that the Soviet Union would send many tourists, rich ones if possible. The Secretary went on to say that he was of the opinion that the problems affecting strictly bilateral relations between the US and the USSR were by and large simple, and that the most difficult problems were those that involved other countries. He reiterated his hope that these bilateral problems could be resolved and that as a result of that, improvement in mutual relations between the US and the USSR would be brought about. The Secretary said that the US favored open exchange programs in the fields of science, technology and scholarships, and that it was prepared to open negotiations on the next exchange agreement, which are scheduled for October or November, with bilateral informal discussions in the near future. The Secretary said that some of these lesser problems may appear to have no more significance than a thread in a web; however, one should realize that if these threads were put together, this would lead to an improvement in US-USSR relations. The Secretary then said that the Soviet people and the American people had a great deal in common. Both were gay and friendly, and American visitors were impressed by Soviet hospitality. As far as bilateral problems were concerned, the Secretary said that one problem which was of symbolic significance was that of Soviet exports of crabmeat. He said that he didn't know how much crabmeat the Soviet Union could send to the US or how much crabmeat the American people could eat, but he felt that solution of this problem would remove a minor irritation in our mutual relations. He said that he hoped that we could remove many such minor irritations. The Secretary then stated that the President was very much interested in a constructive development of US-USSR relations, and that as many steps as possible be made in that direction.

Mr. Gromyko replied that he appreciated the Secretary's remarks and that he would like to say that the Soviet Government, and Mr. Khrushchev himself, attach great importance to US-USSR relations and that the Soviet Union believes that the significance of the relations between the two countries does not diminish with the development of the international situation but rather increases. Therefore, the Soviet Government believes that the responsibility of the US and the USSR for the international situation will increase rather than diminish. Mr. Gromyko said that the Secretary was correct in saying that there were different problems confronting the two countries. Some of them were of lesser and some of major importance. However, the development of US-USSR relations and of the world situation depended on the solution of the major problems. There was no question that the solution of the lesser problems would also influence US-USSR relations and that, as the Secretary had said, they could form a web of some significance for the development of those relations. However, the USSR believes that the main attention should be focused on the major problems. While lesser problems are of certain significance, it is the solution of major problems that will determine the development of US-USSR relations, the state of world affairs, and the question of whether there will be war or peace. Mr. Gromyko went on to say that there were several key problems before the US and the USSR. No one would deny that disarmament was of paramount importance. It was a problem to which many other questions were related and around which many other problems were orbiting like sputniks. The second key question is Germany, particularly the question of West Berlin which at the moment brooks no delay. Mr. Gromyko said that he did not know whether the Secretary was prepared to discuss these questions in detail at this time. He said that he would not insist on their being discussed now. However, he did want to stress that these two problems were among the major problems confronting the US and USSR and perhaps they were the most important problems. Mr. Gromyko said that he wanted the Secretary, the US Government, and the President to know that the Soviet Government sincerely wants to facilitate the solution of the disarmament problem. The Soviet Union is prepared to accept the most effective kind of controls over disarmament. It was gratifying to see that all states had accepted the principle of general and complete disarmament, but that principle should now be implemented. In view of the considerations expressed by Ambassador Thompson in Moscow and by Ambassador Stevenson in New York, the Soviet Union does not insist on having a General Assembly debate on the substance of disarmament. The substance of disarmament could be discussed at a later date. He expressed hope that this willingness of the Soviet Union to postpone substantive discussion of disarmament would be appreciated. Mr. Gromyko said that he believed that the General Assembly should limit its discussion of disarmament to the adoption of a general resolution on the principles of general and complete disarmament so that the world could see that the major powers are devoting their attention to that problem. Later, when the US was ready, the composition of a smaller forum could be agreed for the purpose of resuming substantive negotiations.

The Secretary replied that he hoped that Ambassador Stevenson could work out these problems with Mr. Gromyko in New York. The Secretary said that he wanted to stress the seriousness with which the US Government is approaching the problem of disarmament. The US Government is very serious with regard to the negotiations on the discontinuance of nuclear tests and hopes that an agreement can be obtained that will be in the interest of all parties concerned and will not affect their security. As far as general disarmament is concerned, the Secretary said that he wanted to be frank on this subject. The American people have never been against disarmament, if given a chance. After World War II the US demobilized very quickly so that in 1946 there was not a single division or Air Force group ready for combat. If our military budget today is four times larger than the one we had in 1946, it is because of the events that have occurred since World War II. The fact is that democracy never likes to bear the burden of armaments in peace-time. The Secretary then observed that the US was now studying intensively the general question of armaments and hoped to be able to exchange views with the Soviet Union on that subject before formal negotiations resumed in a forum that might be established. In this area, much depends on the confidence in the national purposes of nations engaging in such commitments. The American people would welcome it if a basis could be found for arms reduction and if certain political problems were resolved and disappeared from the world scene.

Mr. Gromyko replied that he believed that the point had been reached where not only the arms race should be stopped, but disarmament should begin as well. The Soviet Union believes that the peoples of the world realize the heavy burden of arms and the need for disarmament. No wise man can be found who could say where the line should be drawn beyond which no one should go. The Soviet Union believes that all problems, including that of armaments, are created by man, and that man can resolve them. The Soviet Union is not fatalistic in this respect. It believes that the question of disarmament, including agreement between the US and the USSR, can be resolved. As to the question of nuclear tests, the Soviet Union has made very many concessions but has not seen a similar attitude on the part of its negotiating partners. Frankly speaking, the Soviet Government has gained the impression that its negotiating partners have been trying to be shrewd and to obtain an agreement that would be detrimental to Soviet interests. As the US knows, the Soviet Union has not been testing. Furthermore, there are instruments today which can detect any nuclear explosion in the world. Mr. Gromyko said that he did not know whether the Secretary wanted to discuss the details of this particular problem. For his part, he did not insist on such a discussion but would be prepared to discuss these questions if the Secretary desired. In any event, Mr. Gromyko said, one should realize that if there should be no agreement, the Soviet Union would not be the only one to stand a loss. Such a development would harm everyone and, most of all, peace and the world situation at large. With regard to strictly bilateral US-USSR relations, the Soviet Government, in so far as this depends on it, will make every effort to improve them. The Soviet Government believes that the possibilities for such improvement are inexhaustible. Political, economic, cultural and other relations could be improved. Mr. Gromyko then recalled the conversations Mr. Khrushchev had had with American business groups while in the US in 1959. Mr. Khrushchev also had similar conversations with former President Eisenhower and Mr. Dillon. The impression gained at that time was that certain US groups believed that the USSR would suffer a loss if economic relations between the two countries did not develop. This, however, is not correct; rather, the reverse may be true since the Soviet Union, in the absence of trade with the US, has developed certain branches of industry which would not have been developed had that trade existed. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union is still willing to develop economic relations if the other side is willing to do the same. Mr. Gromyko said that he mentioned the question of economic relations only in passing and only for the purpose of giving a well-rounded picture of US-USSR relations. Mr. Gromyko went on to say that the Soviet Government did not fail to note that the President and the new Administration had made certain indications of their interest in improving US-USSR relations. This interest was evident in particular from the President's message to Mr. Khrushchev, the Thompson-Khrushchev discussion, today's discussion, and also the talks with Ambassador Stevenson on disarmament. Mr. Gromyko then said that on behalf of the Soviet Government he could say that any similar steps on the part of the US Government and the President personally would not only be welcomed and understood by the Soviet Government, but would also meet with the Soviet Government's readiness to accept them. The Soviet Government is not only willing to meet such steps half-way, but is also, as before, proceeding in the direction of improving US-USSR relations. The Soviet Government is ready to take every step in that direction that depends on it. Mr. Gromyko said that, in all frankness, the Soviet Government and the Soviet people had been greatly displeased (at this point Mr. Gromyko said that perhaps the word "displeased'' was not strong enough and that "unhappy'' might be a better word) with the policy of President Eisenhower and the past administration. He said that he was saying this not in order to evoke any statement on the Secretary's part, but rather to give a complete picture of the feelings of the Soviet people and of the Soviet Government. As the Secretary had mentioned before, sincerity is helpful and he wanted to speak in that spirit.

The Secretary observed that he believed the climate was now such as would make it possible to find out whether progress on the international scene could be made. The US Government and the American people are ready to take constructive steps. This should be done against the background of the national purposes of the various countries. The problem is not only of what we believe, but also what we do about what we believe. He then said that he did not see any reason why the two governments could not find constructive solutions of problems standing between our two countries and elsewhere in the world. The US is under no illusion that these problems are simple; obviously hard work will have to be done to resolve the details of these problems and to limit their scope. However, the US, for its part, is willing to do everything in order to bring about more constructive relations between the two countries. Obviously there are basic differences underlying our relations. As Mr. Khrushchev had said, the US could not convert the USSR, nor could the USSR convert the US. However, in the final analysis, we do not believe that the problems we are confronting are insuperable. We are devoted to peace and to constructive relations and we are prepared to work as prudently as possible to resolve the problems that divide our two countries now or may divide them in the future. Of course, the interests of many other governments and the attitudes of many other peoples are also involved in the situation and neither the US nor the Soviet Union can be indifferent to these interests or attitudes. Yet, if both sides are willing to tackle the problems constructively, they could be resolved. We believe that neither side is interested in creating a crisis. The most important objective is to maintain peace. So both sides should see what can be done to avoid difficulties and to resolve the problems which by frank discussion and statesmanship can be eliminated from our scene.

Most members of the group then retired to the Secretary's office, where the conversation continued./2/

/2/A memorandum of the conversation on Laos, which lasted from 2:45 to 6 p.m., is ibid., 751J.00/3-1861. A 3-paragraph addendum to the memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. XXIV, Document 34. In a summary telegram to the Embassy in the Soviet Union on March 18, the Department of State commented that the results were quite negative and could have been accomplished in less than an hour. (Telegram 1529; Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/3-1861) For text of the agreed statement issued after the conversation, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 568-569.


FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES - 1961-1963 - Volume V - Soviet Union P23

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