Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev declares that he is ready to begin disarmament talks with the West. Though the Russian leader declined to discuss specific plans for disarmament, his statement was interpreted as an indication that he sought to limit the possibility of nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the Western powers.
Khrushchev’s comments, made during an interview while he was visiting London, came less than two years after the Cuban missile crisis. In October 1962, the United States discovered that the Soviets were constructing missile bases in Cuba capable of firing rockets with nuclear warheads. In the ensuing weeks, President John F. Kennedy demanded that the missile bases be removed, while Premier Khrushchev was equally insistent in claiming that the bases were purely for defensive purposes. Eventually, Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba to prevent any more missiles from being delivered. Khrushchev backed down after securing an American promise to respect the sovereignty of Cuba. The world had never come closer to nuclear war.
The following year, the United States and Russia signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, barring the testing of atomic weapons under water or in the atmosphere. Khrushchev’s August 1964 comments reflected the Soviet leader’s continued interest in avoiding nuclear conflict. The premier declared that, “A new initiative would be welcome,” and indicated that he would be prepared to attend a multinational disarmament conference in early 1965. He also suggested that if an agreement could be reached, the Soviet Union would be willing to allow verification inspections. “If we make a disarmament agreement and a start is actually made on disarmament, then we will allow free inspections as part of the specific program–and close inspections, too, so no one cheats.”
Nothing came of Khrushchev’s offer, however. In Washington, spokesmen for President Lyndon B. Johnson indicated that with the presidential election so near, Johnson did not want to make any specific promises about future international conferences. For Khrushchev, the comments made in London may have sealed his fate. Already under attack by hard-liners in the Russian government and military because of his apparent willingness to cooperate with the Americans and cut Soviet military spending, Khrushchev was forced to resign as premier in October 1964. The much more inflexible and far less colorful Leonid Brezhnev replaced him.