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THE NATIONS: Sputnik Nik

4 minute read

The capsuled world beside Manhattan’s East River spun on its axis with a fervor and furor unknown in the chronicle of nations. By last week the number of national leaders and heads of state at the United Nations 15th General Assembly meeting had grown to 26, and there were more to come. Spinning round them like a sputtering Sputnik was Nikita Khrushchev himself—tossing off dire threats in curbstone interviews, dishing out amiable insults, and defiling the decorum of the U.N. with desk-pounding, finger-waggling interruptions.

Except for his bearded friend Fidel Castro, most of the rest of the world leaders, including the representatives of the unfamiliar new nations, had a feeling for parliamentary behavior and a preference for orderly persuasion. The contrast made Khrushchev all the more conspicuous. President Eisenhower, back in New York for a series of meetings with foreign delegates, stayed away from the U.N. itself but had a quiet talk with Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, whose eventoned eloquence in the General Assembly was the week’s best performance. The neutralist leaders, led by India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, flitted quietly back and forth engaging in an endless but calm series of talks with each other and with leaders of the great powers. Even New York itself settled down to something resembling order. The passionate pickets of the week before had quieted down, and hardly anybody paid much attention to the whirring sirens, blinking lights and other mixed flavors that plague a usurped city.

Garbage. But the inexhaustible Khrushchev never ceased to bounce and joust. Night after night he partied with everyone from the Afghans to the Uruguayans, held high-pressure sales sessions with neutralist leaders, slipped into impromptu press conferences at the drop of a question. More and more, his responses rasped with irritation—as if he could not stand the quiet. To a reporter who asked why he felt that the U.N. had to have a threeman executive to achieve U.N. impartiality, he replied: “It is said God alone was able to combine three persons in one. But then, no one has ever seen him, so let that remain in the imagination of the people who invented him.” Asked about recent arrests of U.S. tourists in Russia:

“You are not a fair person. You slide on garbage.” As for a meeting with Ike: “I won’t go crawling before Eisenhower!”

Even the top-priority luncheon thrown for him by his great and good friend (and fellow Lenin prizewinner) Cyrus Eaton, the Cleveland industrialist, was not all K. had hoped for. Present were about 125 U.S. and Canadian businessmen (mostly associates of Eaton’s) and a flock of Tass reporters. Though Khrush got a chance to sing his Communist theme, most of the guests deliberately passed up his offer to answer questions from the floor; one disgruntled guest was heard to mutter during K.’s speech: “Oh, sit down, you s.o.b.”

Gorilla. All the Khrushchev rumbling through the week climaxed in a thunderbolt display of cranky emotion—in his interruption of Harold Macmillan’s speech and in his bellowing blasts at the U.S. from the rostrum itself (see FOREIGN NEWS). Shocking as it was to the world, it made all the more clear the fact that Nikita Khrushchev, the human Sputnik, had not yet been able to recover the initiative and the sense of menace he had created so effectively in the weeks before his arrival in New York.

Yet he was still very much of a bold presence in the U.S. He professed not to like it. “I don’t like the life here. There is no greenery. It would make a stone sick.” But the Russians applied for a permit to keep their ship Baltika docked in the East River for an additional 23 days (at $84.40 per day), and Khrushchev teased newsmen with the idea that he might stay in town till New Year’s. If he kept on that way, he would be advancing neither the cause of peace nor the cause of Communism, and might set back Russian vaudeville 40 years.

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