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Khrushchev (left) and Kennedy (right) chat during their 1961 summit. (UPI Photo)

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  • Talks Fail to Evoke Any 'Spirit of Vienna'

    By Chalmers M. Roberts
    Staff Reporter
    June 5, 1961

    VIENNA, JUNE 4 -- Nobody launched "The Spirit of Vienna" here today as the Kennedy-Khrushchev talks came to an end.

    The Americans contended that it all came out exactly as they had predicted: A frank exchange of views but no agreements. The Russians put some icing on the cake: They tried to make something of the communique's vague phrase about maintaining Soviet-American contacts and they implied that President Kennedy now had Premier Nikita Khrushchev's invitation to drop in at the Kremlin for a visit anytime he chooses.

    But all this was a far cry from "the Spirit of Geneva" launched by the Soviets at the 1955 meeting between Khrushchev and his then supposed equal, Nikolai Bulganin, and former President Eisenhower. And it was very different, too, from "the Spirit of Camp David," likewise Soviet-launched, at the time of the Khrushchev-Eisenhower talks in late 1959.

    In essence, then this has turned out to be the first post-war summit conference which was not overrated in advance and which, therefore, could live up to its billing. It was what the diplomats who urged it on Mr. Kennedy hoped it would be, an opportunity for the new American Chief Executive to take the measure of his chief opponent on the world scene and for Khrushchev to do the same.

    Just what effect the more than ten hours of talks will have must await events. The first test will be at the Geneva conference on Laos, for on this issue alone there was a hint of some Soviet willingness to come to an agreement.

    The way it turned out thus is probably all to the good. The hopes of 1955 were dashed for many reasons, ranging from over-expectation that talks between world leaders can resolve the unresolvable to the failure of the Eisehower Administration to follow through. The 1959 summit at Camp David was somewhat less oversold but still it raised more hopes than it should have raised. And, of course, the 1960 summit in Paris collapsed even before it began because of the U-2 affair.

    There is no indication tonight that Soviet-American relations have improved in any detail. Certainly, the situation has not reverted to the pre-U2 atmosphere when Mr. Eisenhower was preparing for a grand tour of the Soviet Union.

    Here in Vienna, Mr. Kennedy let pass without a word, it is said tonight, Khrushchev's hint in his toast at yesterday's private lunch that the President would be a welcome visitor to Moscow.

    It appeared that each man found the other saying just about exactly what the briefing papers had predicted would be said, whether the subject was Berlin or nuclear tests or the Soviet demand for the "troika," the built-in Soviet veto in every international body.

    When Mr. Kennedy talked of the danger of miscalculation Khrushchev agreed, but he said the Americans ought to recognize the danger, too. How much all this sort of talk means nobody here could tell tonight, not even the two principals. Neither had any public word to offer.

    But what both the President and Khrushchev say in the coming days and weeks will deserve close watching for clues to the reaction of each one to the other. It is true that it was the President who agreed to this meeting but it also is true that he did pick up the idea which had been shelved during the stormy days of the Cuban and Laotian crises.

    Just why Khrushchev did so, just why he wanted this meeting still remains a mystery tonight. The only indication here came from the Soviet press boss who is close to the Kremlin throne. His pitch was just enough different, just enough more hopeful, to give currency to the idea that Khrushchev may have felt Mr. Kennedy was on his way to hotting up the cold war and that it would be better to calm things down -- for a while, at least. Or maybe it was just human curiosity to meet the new fellow in the White House.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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