An Immodest Proposal: Nikita To Adlai

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In early January, 1960, Adlai E. Stevenson received a puzzling telephone call at his Chicago law office from Mikhail A. Menshikov, the Soviet ambassador to the United States. Stevenson, who had been the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for President in 1952 and 1956 and was still titular head of the Democratic party, had stated more than once—although some of his friends were not convinced—that he did not intend to run for the Presidency a third time, in 1960.

As John Bartlow Martin reports in the final volume of his biography of Stevenson, Adlai Stevenson and the World , which Doubleday & Company will publish in October, Menshikov said that he had gifts and messages that Premier Khrushchev had sent to Stevenson via the embassy, and asked if he might come to Chicago to deliver them personally. Stevenson replied that he would instead call on the ambassador. The story of this peculiar, intriguing incident, which has never before been revealed, continues as told in Mr. Martin’s forthcoming biography:

On January 16, Stevenson was in Washington, and he paid his promised call on Ambassador Menshikov at the guarded, forbidding Soviet embassy. Stevenson and Menshikov had met several times before. The ambassador was an outgoing man, given to diplomatic courtesies as some Russian emissaries were not. The two men exchanged pleasantries; Menshikov offered caviar, fruit, other delicacies, and drinks. Then at last he came to the point. He carefully withdrew from his pocket a folded sheaf of notes written in ink on small sheets of paper and began to speak, obviously under tight instructions. Stevenson “hesitated for a week before making any record of this curious conversation,” and then dictated the following memorandum:

“Before returning last week from Moscow, he [Menshikov] had spent considerable time alone with Premier Khrushchev. He [Khrushchev] wishes me [Menshikov] to convey the following: When you met in Moscow in August, 1958, he [Khrushchev] said to you that he had voted for you in his heart in 1956. He says now that he will vote for you in his heart again in 1960. We have made a beginning with President Eisenhower and Khrushchev’s visit to America toward better relations, but it is only a beginning. We are concerned with the future, and that America has the right President. All countries are concerned with the American election. It is impossible for us not to be concerned about our future and the American Presidency which is so important to everybody everywhere.

“In Russia we know well Mr. Stevenson and his views regarding disarmament, nuclear testing, peaceful coexistence, and the conditions of a peaceful world. He has said many sober and correct things during his visit to Moscow and in his writings and speeches. When we compare all the possible candidates in the United States we feel that Mr. Stevenson is best for mutual understanding and progress toward peace. These are the views not only of myself—Khrushchev—but of the Presidium. We believe that Mr. Stevenson is more of a realist than others and is likely to understand Soviet anxieties and purposes. Friendly relations and cooperation between our countries are imperative for all. Sober realism and sensible talks are necessary to the settlement of international problems. Only on the basis of coexistence can we hope to really find proper solutions to our many problems.

“The Soviet Union wishes to develop relations with the United States on a basis which will forever exclude the possibility of conflict. We believe our system is best and will prevail. You, Mr. Stevenson, think the same about yours. So we both say, let the competition proceed, but excluding any possibility of conflict.

“Because we know the ideas of Mr. Stevenson, we in our hearts all favor him. And you Ambassador Menshikov must ask him which way we could be of assistance to those forces in the United States which favor friendly relations. We don’t know how we can help to make relations better and help those to succeed in political life who wish for better relations and more confidence. Could the Soviet press assist Mr. Stevenson’s personal success? How? Should the press praise him, and, if so, for what? Should it criticize him, and, if so, for what? (We can always find many things to criticize Mr. Stevenson for because he has said many harsh and critical things about the Soviet Union and Communism!) Mr. Stevenson will know best what would help him.

“The presentation concluded with questions about ‘Mr. Stevenson’s rival,’ meaning Vice President Nixon, and repeated declarations of desire not ‘to interfere in an American election,’ together with many sober statements about the profound ‘interest’ of the Soviet Union, and of all countries, in the American election. The protestations about non-interference were interspersed throughout the presentation, which I did not interrupt. The distaste and mistrust of Nixon was expressed cautiously but clearly. The Ambassador made a gesture of sad resignation about the Khrushchev-Nixon altercation in the model kitchen at the Trade Fair in Moscow, if not saying, at least implying, that Khrushchev had not realized that such an irrelevant dialogue recorded on television would be shown and taken seriously in the United States, to the great political advantage of Nixon.