Foreign Relations of the United States
Volume X July - September 1960 : The RB-47 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, September 8, 1960, 2 p.m.

692. I saw Khrushchev at 10 this morning. Conversation lasted 1 and 1/2 hours most of it without translation which is equivalent to over 3 hour conversation. I began by asking if he were familiar with my conversation with Gromyko and his reply on RB-47.(1) When he replied he was fully familiar with it I said since he was pressed for time I would not repeat my remarks and my purpose was simply to impress upon him personally the seriousness with which my government regarded their continued detention of the two American fliers. I said my government would regret if this should lead to undoing much of good work that had been done to improve our relations but did not see how this could be avoided. He interrupted to ask if this were threat. I said by no means, but they should realize that feeling was very strong on this subject. I knew there was a difference of opinion about facts but our people went on basis this plane had not violated Soviet frontiers.

Khrushchev said they would have been glad if occasion had not arisen for them to hold these fliers. This was consequence of policy of US. He said assertions had been made by Secretary Herter and confirmed by President that we had right send planes over Soviet territory.(2) I interrupted him to deny this and said Secretary Herter's first statement may have been equivocal but this had been explained later. I also said President had said there would be no more U-2 flights.(3) He said type plane was of no importance. I said RB-47 was in entirely different category from U-2 flight. Latter had been sent to overfly their territory whereas RB-47 had strict instructions not to do so and we were convinced this had not happened.

Khrushchev said this was our opinion. If it had not done so it would not have been shot down. They had no aircraft carriers and it had been shot down by shore-based plane which was again proof.

I pointed out land-based planes can fly far from shore. Khrushchev remarked they had a limited radius of action though bombers could fly long distances. How far was US from border? Had plane lost its way? These flights were not good. US had taken upon itself right to fly planes over other countries. We had flown over Afghanistan, had wanted fly over Finland and had overflown India. We did not recognize sovereign rights of other countries. During Lebanon crisis we had flown over Austria without permission although both countries had undersigned Austria's neutrality. This policy increased tensions and they considered it a provocation. He pointed out that Soviet Union was different from what it had been in past and it was not Afghanistan. They had right and power to protect their homeland. He said we gave excuse that our planes had been sent on these missions to protect our security but surely we must realize that such flights threatened their security. He said suppose they had sent missiles without warheads over our territory. He repeated his conviction that President had not known of this flight although he had probably known in general about such flights and had given Allen Dulles a pat on the back when shown photos taken by these planes. He pointed out they had protested earlier flights of this kind both to US and to Security Council.(4) He said they had followed our plane on April 9 and on May 1 Malinovski had phoned him about second flight and he had given orders to shoot plane down. He said if this incident had not happened President would have had wonderful and hospitable reception in Soviet Union. What could he have done at Paris? They would have been ashamed to sit down with us in circumstances of this humiliation with no expression of regret on our part. We were not their neighbors but someone had wanted to spoil our relations though he was convinced that if President had been asked to clear this specific flight he would not have done so.

Khrushchev then said he wished to speak to me frankly and personally and said that his remarks were not for transmission to my govt. Although I am reporting on these separately(5) I here give only portion related to U-2 question. Toward end of our conversation I said our election campaigns were at best very sharp affairs and I thought it important that neither candidate be provoked into taking positions which would make impossible or long delay serious attempt to resolve our problems and to stabilize peace. Khrushchev said "Do you mean we should not put these fliers on trial before your elections?" I said, "No, I think they should be returned." He said "This is your first position but your second position is not to try them before the elections. We will think about this and discuss it in the govt and I am inclined to think you are right." He said that release of fliers before election would undermine their policy (I cannot recall his exact words here but believe his meaning was that this would be admission on their part that we were not to blame). He said they were aware of problem of our elections and did not wish to prejudice future possibilities for understanding.

I said he should not misunderstand me. In referring to our elections I was talking on whole broad question of our relations. My position was that they should return the fliers.


Source: Department of State, Central Files, 761.5411/9 - 860. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Another copy of this telegram bears the President's initials. (Eisenhower Library, Staff Secretary Records, International File)

(1) Thompson reported his conversation with Gromyko in telegram 532 from Moscow, August 25. (Department of State, Central Files, 761.5411/8 - 2560) Back

(2) Reference may be to Herter's May 9 statement attempting to justify the U-2 flights and the May 12 U.S. note to the Soviet Union on the incident. For texts, see Department of State Bulletin, May 23, 1960, pp. 816 - 817, and May 30, 1960, p. 852. For text of the President's May 11 statement, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960 - 61, pp. 403 - 404. Back

(3) See footnote 2, Document 156. Back

(4) Regarding earlier Soviet charges of incursions of its air space by U.S. military aircraft and balloons, see Documents 39, 43, 47, 50, and 55. Back

(5) See Document 163. Back

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.