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Letter to Nikita Khrushchev, Chairman, Council of Ministers, U.S.S.R., on the Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapons Tests.

May 16, 1959

[Released May 16, 1959. Dated May 5, 1959]

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have your reply to my communication of April thirteenth in which I suggested ways in which we might move more rapidly toward the achievement of a lasting agreement for the discontinuance of nuclear weapons tests under adequately safeguarded conditions.

I do not disagree with your statement of the need to conclude a treaty which would provide for the cessation of all types of nuclear weapons tests in the air, underground, under water, and at high altitudes. This is the objective I proposed last August, which my representatives at Geneva have sought since the beginning of negotiations there, and which in my most recent letter I reaffirmed as the goal of the United States. I sincerely hope that your affirmation of this objective will prove to mean that you would now be willing to accept the essential elements of control which would make this possible.

You refer to the possibility mentioned by Prime Minister Macmillan for carrying out each year a certain previously determined number of inspections. I have also been informed that your representative at the Geneva Conference has formally proposed that agreement be reached on the carrying out annually of a predetermined number of inspections, both on the territory of the Soviet Union and on the territories of the United States, the United Kingdom and their possessions. In keeping with our desire to consider all possible approaches which could lead to agreement for discontinuance of nuclear weapons tests with effective control, the United States is prepared to explore this proposal through our representatives in the negotiations at Geneva. In particular it will be necessary to explore the views of the Soviet Government on the voting arrangements under which this and other essential elements of control will be carried out, the criteria which will afford the basis for inspection, and the arrangements which you would be prepared to accept to assure timely access to the site of unidentified events that could be suspected of being nuclear explosions. It will be necessary to know, also, the scientific basis upon which any such number of inspections would be determined and how it would be related to the detection capabilities of the control system. I have noted your understanding that these inspections would not be numerous. The United States has not envisaged an unlimited number of inspections, but adheres to the concept that the number should be in appropriate relationship to scientific facts and detection capabilities.

As I stated in my last communication, if you are prepared to change your present position on the veto, on procedures for on-site inspection, and on early discussion of concrete measures for high altitude detection, we can proceed promptly in the hope of concluding the negotiation of a comprehensive agreement for suspension of nuclear weapons tests. I hope that your position on these basic issues will change sufficiently to make this possible.

There are reports that your representative in Geneva has given some reason for thinking the Soviet Government may be prepared to modify its approach regarding these questions. If this should prove not to be the case, however, I could not accept a situation in which we would do nothing. In that event I would wish to urge your renewed consideration of my alternative proposal. It is that starting now we register and put into effect agreements looking toward the permanent discontinuance of all nuclear weapons tests in phases, expanding the agreement as rapidly as corresponding measures of control can be incorporated in the treaty. I would again propose that toward this end we take now the first and readily attainable step of an agreed suspension of nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere up to the greatest height to which effective controls can under present circumstances be extended.

In my communication of April thirteenth, I suggested that the first phase of such an agreement should extend to the altitude for which controls were agreed upon by the Geneva Conference of Experts last summer. We would welcome discussions of the feasibility at the present time of extending the first phase atmospheric agreement to higher altitudes and our representatives in the present negotiations at Geneva are prepared to discuss the technical means for controlling such an agreement.

It is precisely because of my deep desire for a complete discontinuance of nuclear weapons tests that I urge again that you either accept the measures of control that will make such agreement possible now or, as a minimum, that you join now in the first step toward this end which is within our reach. Such a step would assure that no time will be lost in setting up the elements of the system already substantially agreed and in stopping all tests that can be brought under control. While this is being done our negotiators would continue to explore the problems involved in extending the agreement to other weapon tests as quickly as adequate controls can be devised and agreed upon.



Note: For the President's communication of April 13, see Item 81, above. Mr. Khrushchev's reply, dated April 23, appears in the Department of State Bulletin (vol. 40, p. 705). The present letter was released at Denver, Colo.

Following receipt of Mr. Khrushchev's April 23 reply, the White House released the following statement:

The President and the Secretary of State are disappointed that Mr. Khrushchev has not been willing to take the practical and immediately feasible measure of nuclear test suspension proposed in the President's letter of April thirteenth.

Contrary to the impression given in Mr. Khrushchev's letter, the United States does want a complete test ban. That is what President Eisenhower proposed in August 1958 and what we have been trying to get agreement on for five months in Geneva. The Soviets have thus far, however, been unwilling to accept the controls which would make such agreement possible.

The Soviet suggestion does not address itself to the key point--the veto--which has thus far blocked agreement. The President and the Secretary of State hope that when clarified, the Soviet position may reflect a change in attitude on this question so that progress can be achieved.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Letter to Nikita Khrushchev, Chairman, Council of Ministers, U.S.S.R., on the Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapons Tests. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234895

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