Vienna Summit

James Meredith

President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev met at a summit conference in Vienna on June 4th. The summit, which was initially seen as a diplomatic triumph, seems, in retrospect, to have been a failure. After the summit, Khrushchev underestimated Kennedy, leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis.



Kennedy began his trip to Europe and summit with Khrushchev with a visit to Paris. Airforce One touched down in Paris at 10:17 on the morning of May 31, 1961. There, in the course of two days, he had a series of very successful meetings with French President de Gaulle. The French people warmly embraced President Kennedy and even more so Jacqueline, whose French ancestry and personal elegance inspired the French to consider her a daughter of France.

Kennedy then met with Premier Khrushchev in Vienna for two days of meetings. The summit covered a whole range of items, including Laos, disarmament, and general issues of ideology. The main issue on the agenda, however, was Berlin. Khrushchev was threatening to sign a peace agreement with East Germany that might impinge on the rights of the West.

Progress was made on Laos, but the two leaders clashed on other matters. At a final meeting Khrushchev stated: "Force will be met by force. If the US wants war, that's its problem ... Its up to the US to decide whether there will be war or peace ... The decision to sign a peace treaty is firm and irrevocable, and the Soviet Union will sign it in December if the US refuses an interim agreement." Kennedy responded: "Then, Mr. Chairman, there will be a war. It will be a cold winter."

Kennedy left the meeting shocked to the core. He thought that he would be able to charm Khrushchev into working things out. Now, after the meetings, he felt that war was a very real possibility.