On this day in 1959, Nikita Khrushchev became the first Soviet leader to visit the United States. His two-week trip during the Cold War, which included summit meetings with President Dwight Eisenhower, dominated the news.
Khrushchev had come to power in the Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. He denounced the “excesses” that occurred under Stalin and announced that he sought “peaceful coexistence” with the United States.
While publicly praising Eisenhower, who had visited Moscow for a victory parade after World War II, he privately regarded the president, whom he had met in Geneva, as a weakling. In their private sessions, Khrushchev was often arrogant, perhaps better to conceal the fact the Soviet Union then possessed only four intercontinental missiles.
The day began with a motorcade from the airport to downtown Washington. Spectators and several military bands lined the way as Eisenhower, Khrushchev and his wife, Nina, seated together in the back of a convertible, waved to the crowds. At the White House, they engaged in the first of what were to be several meetings, both formal and informal. They ran the gamut from frigid to — finally before Khrushchev’s departure — infused with a spirit of compromise. Eisenhower agreed to visit Moscow in 1960, a visit ultimately canceled because of the U-2 incident.
That evening, at a state dinner, Eisenhower said, “Because of our importance in the world, it is vital that we understand each other better.” Khrushchev responded by adding that that friendship was necessary “because our two countries are much too strong and we cannot quarrel with each other.”
Before leaving, Khrushchev persuaded Eisenhower to exchange national exhibitions. The U.S. exhibition arrived in Moscow with Vice President Richard Nixon, who engaged Khrushchev in their famous “kitchen debate.”
SOURCE: “WE NOW KNOW: RETHINKING COLD WAR HISTORY,” BY JOHN LEWIS GADDIS (1998)
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