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Eisenhower (left) met with Khrushchev (right) in the United States in 1959.

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  • Accord on Talks May Ease Tensions

    By Chalmers M. Roberts
    September 27, 1959

    The chief accomplishment of the Eisenhower-Khrushchev talks is to open a lengthy period of East-West negotiations which should mitigate the cold war and lessen the risks of a shooting war.

    The key which opened the door to this prospect was Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev's agreement with President Eisenhower on a statement that all international disputes should be settled through negotiations and not by force.

    This statement applies directly to the Berlin Crisis, created 10 months ago yesterday by Khrushchev himself. The generalized statement, without any specific reference to Berlin, was not as precise as the president had hoped. But it was all he could get Khrushchev to accept.

    It was enough, however, to clear the way to an expected summit conference. The president wanted to consult chief Allies on that before making an announcement which may come today.

    The president and Khrushchev did not disclose all that they agreed upon concerning Berlin. It may be, for instance, that there was some agreement by the Soviet leader to delay further his long-threatened signing of a separate peace treaty with Communist East Germany. The president appears to believe enough progress was made on Berlin to justify hope of eventually negotiating some form of agreement about that city.

    More details may be made public today not only by the president at his news conference, but by Khrushchev, who will make a speech an hour after his return to Moscow.

    There will be other negotiations beside those on Berlin. Disarmament talks already are scheduled for early next year. The nuclear test ban talks will be resumed. Soviet and American officials will make another try at settling Russia's World War II lend-lease debt. Lesser agreements on Soviet-American exchange of persons and ideas already are in the works.

    All of these negotiations provided an obvious reason for postponing until spring the president's visit to the Soviet Union.

    The president had hoped for a positive statement by Khrushchev that the Soviet Union would not use force, and at least by implication would not let East Germany use force over West Berlin.

    The generalized statement in the communique, however, covers more areas than just Berlin.

    From Khrushchev's standpoint it may be read, and exploited, as an American renunciation of any lingering thoughts of rolling back communism in Eastern Europe. This the Communists consider very important to the stability of the satellite regimes.

    There is still another meaning to the renunciation of force statement. The president hopes that it will apply to the Far East. It is worth noting that the United States has long sought such an agreement with Communist China which would cover the Formosa and offshore island issues but the Chinese have constantly refused to agree. Special attention, therefore, will be paid to the visit of Khrushchev to Peking soon after his return to Moscow.

    Khrushchev could not, of course, make any binding commitment for his Chinese Allies. But the generalized commitment with the president is broad enough to cover any possible Soviet activity in Asia in support of Red China. Or so is the hope in Washington.

    All of these matters together form a sort of grand design for Soviet-American, and thereby for East-West, relations in the coming months, at least until the end of the Eisenhower administration in January 1961.

    How they will be carried out is obviously something else again. But while in the United States Khrushchev hammered away at the necessity of ending the cold war and the president has taken him at his word, as far as such generalized words go.

    The proof will be in the specific areas of negotiation, beginning with Berlin. The Berlin threat appears to have been lifted enough in the president's eyes to justify a summit conference. The assumption is that there are indeed more areas of agreement on how to handle that issue than are known as of now.

    The evidence is that the bargaining was hard at Camp David. The evidence is that the president started out on the Berlin issue and hammered away at it until he got the best he could get. Even that was more than a good many skeptics expected but it was so generalized that its true meaning and application can be unfolded only by what happens in the coming months.

    On disarmament, about which Khrushchev spoke often in his tour of America, including his final statements yesterday, the Camp David discussions were more generalized than specific, according to reports last night.

    Khrushchev said yesterday he favored "the strictest comprehensive control" and step by step inspection and control in any arms scheme. But reports from Camp David were that he did not go any further than that, that he did not give any specifics on just what he was willing to do. Thus only the detailed East-West talks in Geneva next year will show whether Russia is indeed willing to do what Khrushchev says it is willing to do.

    One of Khrushchev's points here was that there should be a major increase in Soviet-American trade. All he got in the communique was a statement that trade had been discussed. In turn he agreed to the lend-lease settlement negotiations.

    It should be noted that even a settlement of the lend-lease debt, which should not be difficult to compromise if Khrushchev wants a settlement, will not in itself open the doors to American credits. The Johnson Act bans American commercial loans to nations in default on their public debts and in Russia's case this includes Czarist debts repudiated by the Soviet Union. It would take an act of Congress to alter that. Nor is there any current inclination in the Administration to give American government credits to the Russians.

    The Camp David talks, to take the broadest possible view, have at least opened prospects of continuing peace through continuing negotiation. Given a determination on both sides to keep at it, negotiations can go on for a long time.

    It should be noted, however, that in his final Washington speech last night the Soviet Premier put the shoe on the American foot as far as making all the hopes come true are concerned. He referred to the "many speeches" which have aggravated the cold war. While he did not specify American speeches alone, he had said earlier that the blame for the cold war lay on the United States.

    And Khrushchev said yesterday the president was "in a more difficult situation than I am" because there are still un-named but influential "forces" in America which he contends want to hinder and East-West detente.

    There are many other aspects of the Khrushchev visit to America of major importance besides the outcome at Camp David. One of them Khrushchev made very clear in his farewell speech. He is the dynamic, self-confident leader who with his colleagues believes he has found the route to Utopia, a way of life which will catapult the Soviet Union ahead of the United States in just about all areas of the rival nation economies.

    To Khrushchev, as he put it himself, today's rich America has reached "the ceiling of achievement in the capitalist world." No more ominous prediction-and formidable-challenge-has ever been flung at the American public than those words of Nikita S. Khrushchev.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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