President Kennedy, touched down at Andrews Airforce Base, this June 6, 1961, completing his first tour of Europe as President. Essentially a visit with Soviet Premier Khrushchev in Vienna, Kennedy made stops in Europe as a way of solidifying U.S./European solidarity and the NATO alliance. The concern was over Berlin – in 1961 it was considered a hotspot, and if a war were to break out between the West and The Soviet Union, it would begin in Berlin. In Paris, Kennedy met with French President Charles De Gaulle who offered the young President a bit of advice; to show his resolve and not let Khrushchev dictate the direction of the meeting. The Paris leg of the trip was also an enormous success, not so much because of JFK, but because of Jackie, whom the President quipped during a Press luncheon, that he was the man who accompanied Jackie to Paris.
But the crucial element of the journey lay in Vienna, where President Kennedy wanted to discuss Berlin with the hope of easing tensions over the potential flashpoint there. Khrushchev, on the other hand, wanted to discuss the “global competition” – and the two played a game of political chess, where Khrushchev skirted the issue of Berlin and Kennedy pressed for it. Subsequently, the Vienna meeting wasn’t considered a big success in one aspect, but Kennedy was able to get a better idea of who he was dealing with, and so it was considered a success in others.
Kennedy arrived in London on the last leg of the tour for meetings with Prime Minister MacMillan and an assessment of the Kennedy/Khrushchev meeting. MacMillan would later say that Kennedy seemed shell-shocked over his meeting with the Soviet Premier and that, as MacMillan put it ” Kennedy finally met someone who was impervious to his charm”.
Kennedy arrived back in Washington on this day in 1961, preparing to address the American people with the summation that the summit, though a disappointment, amply proved that America and the Soviet Union saw the world completely differently. It was that assessment which caused Kennedy to call for preparedness in what could be a potential conflict down the road. And indicated just how much work needed to be done.
Here is Kennedy’s arrival at Andrews Air Force Base on June 6, 1961 – as reported by NBC Radio News.