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116. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, September 9, 1961, 7:15 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Secretary's Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. Confidential. Drafted by Davis and approved in S on September 12.

Soviet Protest Against "Bandit Raid" on Soviet Embassy, Resulting in Setting Fire in Ambassador's Quarters

Mr. M.N. Smirnovsky, Charge d'Affaires, Soviet Embassy
Mr. Igor D. Bubnov, Third Secretary, Soviet Embassy

The Secretary
Mr. Foy Kohler, EUR
R.H. Davis, EUR

At 7:15 p.m., the Secretary received the Soviet Charge, who had demanded to see the Secretary personally on "urgent business" late this afternoon. Mr. Smirnovsky, reading from pencilled notes, said he had come to protest the "bandit raid" this afternoon on the Soviet Embassy and an attempt to set fire to the Embassy. He called this criminal persecution which could have the gravest consequences. He demanded that the criminals be apprehended and punished severely. He also demanded that all necessary security measures be taken to protect the Embassy. He concluded that he was reporting this affair to Moscow.

The Secretary questioned Mr. Smirnovsky at some length and learned the following rather confusing details. According to Mr. Smirnovsky, they had discovered the fire in the Ambassador's quarters on the third floor of the Embassy at 4:45 p.m. No one had been seen to enter the Ambassador's quarters, but entry had been made through a window which was broken and he thought that those responsible might have come over the roof from the adjoining Washington Post building. He remarked he had been told some correspondents were taking pictures. The fire had been set in many places, including against the curtains and the Ambassador's bed. It was not a big fire and they had not informed the police or the fire department, but had extinguished the fire through their own means. He did not know if there had been any attempt to steal anything. At one point, he made reference to finding apples half eaten in the Ambassador's apartment.

In response to the Secretary's question about when Soviet Embassy personnel had last been in the Ambassador's quarters before the fire was discovered, Mr. Smirnovsky merely replied he was not sure, but it could not have been a long time. No one had been seen to enter, but when they found the fire, the room was ablaze.

The Secretary expressed regret that this incident had happened and assured Mr. Smirnovsky that our authorities would do everything to apprehend the criminals and to bring them to justice. He asked if our investigative authorities could inspect the scene of the fire in order to try, through fingerprints, etc., to discover those responsible. Mr. Smirnovsky agreed that the authorities could investigate at the Embassy provided there was someone present from the State Department./2/

/2/On September 13 Tyler sent Rusk a memorandum on the subject of "The Case of the Blazing Bedroom or Arson at the Soviet Embassy" in which he stated that investigation of the fire made clear that it was an inside job for which there was no clear probable motive. (Ibid., 601.6111/9-1361) Two days later Davis informed Smirnovsky of these findings, but he rejected them. (Telegram 788 to Moscow, September 15; ibid., 601.6111/9-1561)


117. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, September 12, 1961.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/9-1261. Confidential. Drafted by Talbot and approved by the White House on September 26 and by S on September 27.

Presidential Talks between President Kennedy and Presidents Sukarno and Keita


President Sukarno of Indonesia
President Keita of MaliVarious members of their entourages

The President
The Secretary of State
The Under Secretary of State
Asst. Sec Phillips Talbot
White House Special Assistant Walt W. Rostow
Mr. Arva Floyd, Desk Officer for Mali (Interpreter)

After an exchange of amenities President Sukarno explained that the mission on which he and President Keita had come to the United States and on which others had gone to Moscow was to persuade President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev as soon as possible to meet together. He hoped that President Kennedy's reply would be "OK". He believed that Premier Khrushchev himself was ready for a meeting with President Kennedy. He had learned this from Mr. Sulzburger's interview with Premier Khrushchev and also from a message he had received from Prime Minister Fanfani of Italy. If asked, the nations which had participated at the Belgrade Conference were also quite willing to give their assistance to bring the two leaders together.

President Keita told President Kennedy that their mission was extremely important given the tension in the world today. The key to peace lay in the hands of the big powers. Hoping that they would use it, the nations represented at Belgrade had asked President Sukarno and him to present this appeal.

President Sukarno then presented the appeal addressed to President Kennedy and signed by the representatives of the states participating at the Belgrade Conference./2/

/2/For text of this appeal, which was also presented to Khrushchev by Nehru and Nkrumah, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 647-648.

President Kennedy referred to comments that this is a time of transition. That is correct. Societies are changing and this introduces tensions. We in the United States desire change--in a peaceful way. We know quite well that nuclear war would mean widespread destruction at the cost of the lives of a great many people. We are a rich country, as is the USSR. Naturally, therefore, we want to solve issues peacefully. The problem is how to do this.

Describing his talks with Khrushchev in Vienna, when Khrushchev had advanced views which to the best of the President's knowledge he had not yet changed, and recent speeches of Ulbricht, President Kennedy explained the United States' view of the problems of Germany and Berlin. Our real interest is that the German people should be free to decide what kind of government they want. We do not believe Ulbricht represents the German people, but to ascertain what the people of East and West Germany and East and West Berlin really want, we are willing to have a plebiscite under any impartial international group--the UN or any other--and would be glad to accept the verdict so obtained. In other words, we favor self-determination in Germany and in Berlin just as we do in Indonesia, in Africa or anywhere else. We do not want a settlement imposed upon the Germans by us, by Khrushchev or by any one.

If a plebiscite is not an acceptable proposal then the question is what solution can be reached to permit the people of Berlin to live out their lives peacefully. We are not insisting on rights that happen to have been derived from our participation in the war, but on the rights of the people to live as they wish. We know that Khrushchev has the power to sign a "peace treaty" with East Germany. What concerns us is that Khrushchev has held that when the "peace treaty" comes into force our rights in West Berlin would be extinguished and all of West Berlin's external communications would be subject to the control of East Germany.

President Kennedy told the emissaries of the Belgrade Conference nations that he would be glad to talk with Khrushchev at any time. There would be no use in doing so, however, until we could understand in what direction some agreement could be found. If Khrushchev and he were to meet today without this understanding, the results would be disastrous. Therefore it would be best for the Foreign Ministers of the two countries to discuss the various possibilities first.

President Sukarno responded that he understood President Kennedy was of the opinion that before meeting Khrushchev he would prefer a meeting of the Foreign Ministers first. If they could discover possibilities of common ground then President Kennedy would be quite willing to see Khrushchev. He said he understood further that President Kennedy's main objection to a meeting now was Khrushchev's standpoint on Berlin.

President Kennedy reiterated that his main objection was not that Khrushchev had threatened to sign a peace treaty but that in the peace treaty Khrushchev would hold that our rights in Berlin had come to an end. Access would be controlled by the East German Government. But we do not believe that the German Democratic Republic represents the people. Therefore, how could we agree to that? Further, we feel--and believe that the Soviets would agree--that West Berlin wishes to be associated with the West. This means that West Germany must have freedom and you cannot have freedom without communications. We cannot accept any action by Khrushchev that would strangle Berlin. If we were to agree that we and the Atlantic Community would be finished. We would be pushed out of Europe.

President Sukarno recalled his own meeting with Khrushchev/3/ and said that the latter had told him he was going to sign a peace treaty with East Germany. President Sukarno had understood him to say, however, that access to Berlin would be kept free, but that Berlin would obviously be an enclave in East Germany and communications should therefore be controlled by East Germany.

/3/Khrushchev visited Indonesia for 12 days in February 1960.

President Kennedy described this point in effect as the key. If a regime can control food and supplies and transit, then the people of the city are not free.

At the end of World War II we gave up about one third of Eastern Germany that our troops had occupied, but on the basis of the Four Power Agreement that Berlin would be separate until Germany was reunified. If it looks as if reunification won't happen for a while that does not mean that the USSR can therefore give away our rights in Berlin. The rights are not theirs to give.

President Keita observed that their mission to President Kennedy was to point out the necessity of some kind of talks to reduce tension. Whether President Kennedy and Khrushchev would talk personally or have their Foreign Ministers search out the ground was not for the nations represented at Belgrade to say but it would be difficult for the world if there were no talks at all. The non-aligned nations were not trying to say what the nature of the agreement should be. That would depend of course on the discussions.

President Kennedy informed the two Presidents that the Foreign Ministers of Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States are meeting this week to discuss the problem of Germany and that Gromyko is expected to come next week at which time we hope to see what basis may exist for a peaceful solution. Khrushchev had told Mr. Sulzburger that he himself did not think a meeting would be useful at present. After talking with Nehru, however, he said he thought a meeting might help./4/ President Kennedy believed that Khrushchev would still agree with him that they should first see what are the real possibilities. Then the two leaders could meet and examine what such terms as guaranteed access really mean.

/4/In telegram 807 from Moscow, September 7, Thompson reported that in his interview with Cyrus Sulzberger Khrushchev had initially said the time was not right for a summit meeting. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/9-761) Later the same day Thompson sent another telegram saying that Khrushchev wanted the record of the interview to show that he desired a meeting with the President. Thompson assumed that the change in position had been due to Nehru's intervention. (Telegram 811 from Moscow; ibid.)

President Sukarno said that as far as he knew, Khrushchev had told Sulzburger that he would be willing to have a "businesslike meeting" with President Kennedy. Besides, the Italian Ambassador had contacted President Sukarno with a message from Prime Minister Fanfani who had reported that he had contacted Khrushchev on the question of a meeting and that Khrushchev had said yes he would be quite willing to meet President Kennedy.

President Kennedy asked the Presidents whether they thought it would be more useful for him and Khrushchev to meet now or to examine the outstanding questions in close detail first. President Sukarno responded that it is the view of the nations represented at Belgrade that President Kennedy and Khrushchev should meet. As a preliminary move it would no doubt be fruitful to have contacts between the Foreign Ministers. But those should be followed as soon as possible by a meeting of the President and Khrushchev.

President Kennedy said he agreed that this is a very dangerous situation. If Khrushchev should go ahead and sign a peace treaty and then if there should be interference with access to Germany then we could have a war before Christmas. President Kennedy was troubled by the actions of the Soviet Union in this connection. Why for example had the Soviets fired off another hydrogen bomb today?

President Sukarno acknowledged that he too was anxious about that. He had understood the President to say however that he was not opposed in principle to meeting Khrushchev.

President Kennedy said he was not opposed in principle: he just did not want a meeting to occur and to fail. If Ulbricht and Khrushchev could get an understanding of the real meaning of the promise of access, then we could talk freely. He emphasized that we want peace. At the same time we want it understood that if the Soviet Union should sign a peace treaty with East Germany a full guarantee of the right of free access and communications for the people of Berlin must be included. That is what we ask.

As the meeting adjourned President Kennedy explained that he planned to give the Presidents a written reply to their message before their departure from Washington./5/

/5/For text of the President's reply, September 14, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 602-604; for text of Khrushchev's reply, September 16, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 656-658.


FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES - 1961-1963 - Volume V - Soviet Union P64

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