ON THIS DAY    17 May      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1960: East-West summit in tatters after spy plane row

The much-heralded Big Four summit in Paris has failed before it even started.

It follows three days of bitter recrimination over a US spy plane shot down two weeks ago by the Russians.

Any hope of East-West rapprochement was doomed from the start as heads of state - President Eisenhower, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, General de Gaulle and Harold Macmillan - never got beyond preliminary procedural meetings.

The U2 spy plane was shot down on 1 May by a Russian missile after it lost height owing to engine trouble.

The civilian pilot, Gary Powers, was able to bale out of the aircraft and was arrested in Sverdlovsk in the USSR.

State Department denial

When the Soviet Union announced it had shot the plane down, the US State Department at first denied it was a spy plane, saying it was simply an aircraft that had gone astray.

But when Mr Khrushchev produced photos taken by the pilot of military installations, President Eisenhower was forced to admit he had authorised the flight because he needed to prevent another Pearl Harbor.

When leaders gathered in Paris for the summit two days ago, after months of planning by Soviet and French officials, Mr Khrushchev demanded an apology before discussions could begin.

He also said the USA should promise never to violate Soviet airspace again and should punish all those responsible for the incident.

President Eisenhower rejected the demands, leaving the hoped-for peace summit in tatters.

De Gaulle's invitation

General de Gaulle had tried to revive the talks by inviting all the delegates to another conference at the Elysee Palace to discuss the situation.

All agreed but President Eisenhower insisted he would not discuss the spy plane incident.

When told of the invitation, Mr Khrushchev was on a trip outside Paris. He returned to the French capital and told a press conference the Soviet Union was ready to take part only if the USA met his demands of a public condemnation of the U2 incident.

So ended the summit that never was.

Both sides are now blaming each other for the failure of the conference.

In Context
There were no further U2 flights over the USSR - after 1961 spy satellites performed the same function.

The American pilot, Gary Powers, was sentenced to 10 years in a Soviet prison in August 1960 but was exchanged for a Soviet spy in 1962.

Nikita Khrushchev was ousted by Leonid Brezhnev in 1964 because his economic policies at home had failed and his handling of foreign policy - his humiliation during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and his open antagonism towards China - was considered erratic.

Nevertheless, history will be remember him as the first Soviet leader to establish good relations with the West and the first to agree to a telephone hotline between the Kremlin and the White House.


Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |