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1959: Khrushchev and Nixon have war of words

VIDEO : A rough handshake seals a somewhat inelegant bargain

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and US Vice-President Richard Nixon have had a tense exchange of words about the merits of communism versus capitalism.

This is the latest and most public of a series of impromptu debates between the two leaders which started yesterday on Mr Nixon's arrival in the USSR at the start of his 11-day visit.

"We have all these things in our new flats"

Nikita Khrushchev

This time, the two men were touring the American trade exhibition in Moscow's Sokolniki Park ahead of its opening this evening. They stopped in front of a mock-up American kitchen displaying the latest gadgets - washing machines, toasters and juicers.

Mr Khrushchev dismissed the exhibits and said: "You Americans expect that the Soviet people will be amazed. It is not so. We have all these things in our new flats."

Mr Nixon replied: "We do not claim to astonish the Soviet people. We hope to show our right to choose. We do not wish to have decisions made at the top by government officials who say that all homes should be built in the same way."

Reporters, government officials and workmen putting the finishing touches to the stands looked on amazed and then began to applaud their respective leaders.

Mr Khrushchev went on to demand both sides remove "foreign bases". "The one who is for putting an end to foreign bases is for peace. The one who is not, is for war," he said.

"We hope to show our right to choose"

Richard Nixon

Mr Nixon retorted: "The moment we place either one of these powerful nations, through an ultimatum, in a position where they have no choice but to accept dictation or fight, then you are playing with the most destructive power in the world."

Pointing his finger just inches from Mr Nixon's face, Mr Khrushchev replied sternly, "Who is giving the ultimatum?"

He said Russia would answer threat with threat and had the means to do so. "Ours are better than yours," he said, referring to Russia's rockets.

"We are well aware of that. We have some too," said Mr Nixon.

In the end, Mr Nixon apologised for being a poor host and the two men agreed to thank the exhibit hostess for letting them argue in her kitchen.

The exhibition was formally opened this evening, with Mr Nixon passing on a message of goodwill from President Eisenhower and Mr Khrushchev inviting the president to visit the USSR.

In Context
The so-called "kitchen debate" took place during a time of increasing tension in the Cold War, starting with the Russians' launch of Sputnik in 1957 and ending with the U-2 spy plane affair in 1960.

The American company Ampex filmed the exchanges on the first videotape recorder.

On 1 August, Mr Khrushchev allowed Mr Nixon to speak on Soviet national television. In an event unprecedented in the USSR, Nixon criticised communism and warned against any attempt to spread the ideology beyond the borders of the Soviet Union.

In September, Mr Khrushchev went to the US and met with President Eisenhower.

The debate added to Vice-President Nixon's prestige at home. He returned to the USSR in May 1972 - this time as president.

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