The First U.S. President to Visit Yugoslavia
President Nixon receives a warm welcome from Yugoslavian citizens.
On September 30, 1970, President Nixon touched down in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, becoming the first U.S. President to visit the Communist nation. On this day in 1970, after two hours of official talks with President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia in the Federal Council Building, President Nixon acknowledged “the growth of good and friendly relations between their two countries.”
President Tito, a leader in the so-called nonaligned world and owing allegiance to neither of the two superpowers, gained prominence as the leader of the World War II Yugoslav guerrilla movement, which successfully resisted the occupying Axis forces. Having by September of 1944 expelled all external forces from Yugoslav territory, Tito established the provisional government of the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia, later renamed the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia following Tito’s overwhelming electoral victory.
At the end of September, 1970, circumstances nearly prevented President Nixon’s visit to Yugoslavia. President Tito was a close personal friend of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, who abruptly passed away on September 28 after suffering from a severe heart attack. Though President Tito was expected to postpone President Nixon’s state visit, he instead elected to forego the funeral. It appeared that President Tito would not have wanted to postpone, perhaps indefinitely, President Nixon’s much sought-after visit. It was also likely that he wanted to avoid missing the limited opportunity of making the case for his country’s stance against the Middle Eastern policy of the United States, for which he claimed to have been too favorable to Israeli interests.
High on the agenda of topics to discuss at the October 1 meeting, no less, was United States involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. But equally important to this discussion was President Nixon’s pledge to abide U.S. interest in Yugoslavian independence, to exhibit an understanding of its nonalignment policy, and to support its continued economic development. In other words, President Nixon would take this opportunity to differentiate the United States from the Soviet Union, who at the time continuously opposed Yugoslavian aspirations. Likewise, President Nixon, aware of Tito’s ties to Egypt, would approach this meeting with the premise that Yugoslavia offered a valuable conduit to Cairo.
Below, view National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger’s briefing memo for President Nixon’s first visit to Yugoslavia, which highlights some of these points:
President Nixon and President Tito before a State Dinner in Belgrade, Yugoslavia on October 1, 1970.
Toasts of President Nixon and President Tito
After the meeting, both President’s released a join statement that acknowledged discussions on the Middle East, South East Asia, East-West relations, European security, less developed countries, and bilateral issues. It also affirmed both nations’ belief in negotiation rather than confrontation as indispensable to peaceful and just solutions, insisting that cooperation among sovereign nations would be the impetus for this type progress.