I take issue with Bill Safire's oft-asserted contention (repeated in The Post's Style profile Aug. 24) that it was he who engineered the famous "Kitchen Debate" at the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow. The facts, as I recall them from being present at the occasion, are different.

Richard Nixon, in conducting Nikita Khrushchev through a preview of the exhibition before its formal opening, led him first to the RCA color television studio, where a video taping of the two in conversation was demonstrated. (This was for the Soviets such a new technological development that the video head was locked up nightly in my embassy safe to protect it from anticipated theft.) While the two talked for the video cameras, Mr. Khrushchev became increasingly aggressive, but Mr. Nixon remained restrained. As we emerged from the studio, Mr. Nixon turned to us who were escorting the party and said that as the host he felt he should be polite, but added: "What gives with him? If he starts that again, I'll let him have it."

The next stop on the tour was a "walk-through" of the model of a "typical" American one-family home along a path that cut the house into two halves. As we stopped to look at the kitchen, Mr. Khrushchev again started the polemics, and this time Mr. Nixon gave tit for tat. They were surrounded by a crowd of American photographers and reporters who were snapping pictures and scribbling furiously. To the best of my knowledge there is no verbatim record of the "debate" -- only what the newsmen pieced together either directly or from the interpreters.

The bout lasted 15 to 20 minutes. Every time it looked as though they were going into a real "clinch," they backed off, laughed, embraced and went at it again -- a fascinating confrontation that was, however, a pure if historic accident, not a cleverly planned Safire PR coup for the building company he represented.


Bethesda The writer was press and cultural attache' of the American Embassy in Moscow.