On September 18, 1959, the then-leader of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev made a speech at the United Nations calling for worldwide nuclear disarmament. The speech was made in the framework of Khrushchev’s visit to the United States, the first in the history of Soviet-American relations.
Khrushchev’s visit to the States was called for by the necessity to somehow mitigate the tension between the two countries after the Soviet leader’s harsh statements on the Berlin issues. The American government suggested that Khrushchev personally visited the States to discuss the problems personally and in detail.
Originally, the plan was just to have a meeting with the American President only, but, in preparing for the visit to the United States, Khrushchev unexpectedly made up his mind to also make a speech at the opening session of the United Nations Assembly, which was to be held in New York in September of the same year, and shifted the date of the visit.
The event was extensively covered by the media. The US Department of State issued accreditations for 2,500 American and foreign journalists. However, Life magazine estimated the total number of journalists to be as many as 5,000. No electoral campaign in the States had ever received such unprecedented media attention.
In the course of the visit Khrushchev met with Eisenhower four times, two of them held privately. One of the major problems discussed was Germany. The Soviet Union was ready to postpone the signing of the peace treaty with both East and West Germany. This, however, threatened to null a separate peace treaty with the German Democratic Republic, in which case the Western States would automatically lose occupational rights for territory in Berlin. The United States, in return, claimed they would accept the separate peace treaty, but would not withdraw troops from West Berlin. These negotiations ended with no significant results, as did talks on a number of other issues. However, the visit undoubtedly contributed to the breaking of stereotypes brought about by the Cold War, and better mutual understanding between the superpowers.
On September 18, Khrushchev made his speech at the opening session of the UN Assembly, where he proposed to immediately start discussions on universal and total non-proliferation. The propositions by the Soviet leader about putting a stop to nuclear testing were, however, totally ignored by the Americans.
As part of his cultural program, Khrushchev visited the 20th Century Fox movie studios, made an appearance on American television, and participated in the business circles of San Francisco and Pittsburgh. When the American secret services stated they were not able to guarantee his security while visiting Disneyland, Khrushchev threatened to cancel his trip if the situation wasn’t remedied. In all his speeches Khrushchev dwelled mostly on the necessity for the amelioration of American-Soviet relations and the strengthening of the Soviet Union. Observers recall that Khrushchev managed to get around sensitive issues, like de-Stalinization and Soviet foreign policy in Eastern Europe with perfect grace.