Cold War: I Like Him

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A few days after the disastrous U-2 affair, Nikita Khrushchev spotted U.S. Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson at a diplomatic reception in Moscow. The Soviet Premier strode up to Thompson, then deliberately stepped on his foot. "That is what your President did to me," said Khrushchev. A crowd moved in to watch the hostility and perhaps to join in. "Stop!" shouted Khrushchev. "It is not the work of this man. I like him."

Last week, after five grueling years in Moscow—a record for a U.S. envoy—slender (5 ft. 11 in., 150 Ibs.), baggy-eyed "Tommy" Thompson left for home and a new assignment as a special adviser on Soviet Affairs to Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Foy D. Kohler will arrive next month to take his place. Thompson's Moscow tenure had spanned the period from the short-lived honeymoon spirit of Camp David to the blowup at the Paris summit, to the Kennedy Administration's diplomatic "probes" over Berlin—altogether a mobile period, in many ways harder to handle than the rigidities of Stalinism.

Thompson has an ulcer—he kept a pitcher of milk and a package of graham crackers in his office—but curiously enough his health was never better. There is no more demanding job in diplomacy than representing the U.S. in what, ideologically at least, is enemy territory. The grimy, grey ten-story U.S. embassy is always under siege. From nearby apartments all visitors are watched. The embassy staff is permanent prey for Soviet plainclothesmen (even children's outings are sometimes shadowed by police), and telephone "bugs" in offices and homes are taken for granted. Though social contacts with Russian officials have become easier in the Thompson years, the tiny (about 200) U.S. diplomatic colony still lives and works in oppressive isolation.

Poker Style. The son of a Colorado rancher, Thompson joined the Foreign Service in 1929 (as vice consul in Colombo, Ceylon), first went to Russia in the Stalin era as second secretary of the U.S. embassy during World War II. That is when he learned fluent Russian and developed his methodical, meticulous, unruffled diplomatic style. As ambassador, he kept this style both at the conference and at the card table; in a running poker game with him, some resident U.S. correspondents lost $300-$400 a session.

The most characteristic feature of Thompson's tenure in Moscow was the growth of the U.S.-Soviet cultural exchange program. As an ambassador, this brought him new opportunities as well as new problems; almost anybody might turn up in Moscow, from Vice President Nixon to the New York Philharmonic, from Benny Goodman to Shirley MacLaine, all requiring Thompson's care. One of his few embarrassments came on U.S. Election Day 1960, when he was asked by U.S. correspondents visiting his residence which candidate he favored. Diplomat Thompson refused to say. "Why, Daddy," interrupted his nine-year-old daughter Jenny, "you know perfectly well you voted for Kennedy. You told me so."

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