Foreign Relations of the United States
May - July 1960 : The U-2 Airplane Incident
Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State

Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State

Moscow, May 7, 1960, 6 p.m.

2750. Eyes only Secretary. I am at a loss to submit any recommendations on how we should handle plane incident but following thoughts may be useful to you. Difficult to assess Khrushchev's motives in playing this so hard. I believe he was really offended and angry, that he attaches great importance to stopping this kind of activity, and that he believes this will put him in advantageous position at summit. There is no doubt that we have suffered major loss in Soviet public opinion and probably throughout world. Judging by reaction Norwegian Amb(1) Norway and possibly other countries may take unilateral action to pledge prohibition cooperation such actions in future.

A more menacing interpretation is that Khrushchev realizes, particularly after his visit to De Gaulle, Dillon speech, and NATO pronouncements,(2) that he cannot make progress at summit and feels obliged proceed with separate peace treaty and risk consequences that will follow. He therefore could be exploiting this incident to prepare public opinion for eventual crisis. Of course this may be what Khrushchev wants us to think. Also cannot help but think, although evidence is very slight, that Khrushchev is having some internal difficulties and this incident affords him a convenient diversion.

Judging by display which Khrushchev made of evidence in Supreme Soviet Today(3) I would doubt that we can continue to deny charges of deliberate overflight. Khrushchev has himself stated dilemma with which we are faced should we deny that President himself had actual knowledge this action although I should recommend this be done if possible and that it should be accompanied by some drastic action to prevent recurrence action of this sort without his knowledge. This would preserve for us great asset we have in regard which Soviet and other people have for President. I would suggest this might also be accompanied by statement that espionage practiced on both sides and most successfully by Soviet Union which can exploit openness our society.

In these circumstances and in view fact Soviet Union has repeatedly boasted of its ability to destroy US and other nations, those responsible for defense our country have felt it necessary to take every step to insure our ability to carry out that defense. I would suggest however that impropriety of this action be admitted. At same time I suggest we should strongly assert our desire to achieve progress in settling political questions, and particularly in field of disarmament to make rapid progress in order remove any doubt by either side of intentions of other. If we have available any provable evidence of comparable Soviet actions these might be mentioned but I believe only if they are adequate.

In any event I do not believe we should consider calling off summit conference and decision on President's visit should obviously await results that meeting if it is to be held. Although Vershinin(4) may now cancel his visit I would still think we should not take any initiative to do so.


Source: Department of State, Central Files, 761.5411/5 - 760. Top Secret; Niact.

(1) [Text of footnote not declassified]. Back

(2) Reference is presumably to Khrushchev's visit to France March 23 - April 3, Dillon's April 20 speech in New York (see Department of State Bulletin, May 9, 1960, pp. 723 - 729), and the May 4 communique of the North Atlantic Council Ministerial Meeting in Istanbul (see ibid., May 23, 1960, p. 840). Back

(3) For text of Khrushchev's May 7 speech, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, June 8, 1960, pp. 3 - 7. Back

(4) Air Marshal Vershinin was scheduled to visit the United States May 14 - 22 to reciprocate the visit of General Twining to the Soviet Union in 1956, but Vershinin postponed his visit on May 13. (Telegram 2827 from Moscow, May 13; Department of State, Central Files, 711.5861/5 - 1360) The visit was later canceled altogether. Back

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