May 16

This Day in History

Cold War

May 16, 1960:

U.S.-Soviet summit meeting collapses

In the wake of the Soviet downing of an American U-2 spy plane on May 1, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev lashes out at the United States and President Dwight D. Eisenhower at a Paris summit meeting between the two heads of state. Khrushchev's outburst angered Eisenhower and doomed any chances for successful talks or negotiations at the summit.

On May 1, 1960, the Soviets shot down a CIA spy plane and captured the pilot, Gary Francis Powers. The United States issued public denials that the aircraft was being used for espionage, claiming instead that it was merely a weather plane that had veered off course. The Soviets thereupon triumphantly produced Powers, large pieces of wreckage from the plane, and Powers' admission that he was working for the CIA. The incident was a public relations fiasco for Eisenhower, who was forced to admit that the plane had indeed been spying on Russia.

Tensions from the incident were still high when Eisenhower and Khrushchev arrived in Paris to begin a summit meeting on May 16. Khrushchev wasted no time in tearing into the United States, declaring that Eisenhower would not be welcome in Russia during his scheduled visit to the Soviet Union in June. He condemned the "inadmissible, provocative actions" of the United States in sending the spy plane over the Soviet Union, and demanded that Eisenhower ban future flights and punish those responsible for this "deliberate violation of the Soviet Union." When Eisenhower agreed only to a "suspension" of the spy plane flights, Khrushchev left the meeting in a huff. According to U.S. officials, the president was "furious" at Khrushchev for his public dressing-down of the United States. The summit meeting officially adjourned the next day with no further meetings between Khrushchev and Eisenhower. Eisenhower's planned trip to Moscow in June was scrapped.

The collapse of the May 1960 summit meeting was a crushing blow to those in the Soviet Union and the United States who believed that a period of "peaceful coexistence" between the two superpowers was on the horizon. During the previous few years, both Eisenhower and Khrushchev had publicly indicated their desire for an easing of Cold War tensions, but the spy plane incident put an end to such talk, at least for the time being.

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