EPORTS that Mr. Khrushchev is planning to go to Rome to see the Pope are by no means new. We have been hearing them off and on for years. But there are reasons for believing that the present recurrence of the reports may he based on more substantial ground than heretofore.
The most important one is the doctrinal rift with China which can no longer he concealed. A Chinese attack on Russia is inconceivable now in view of Rus.sia's nuclear capacity. But what of the future ? In any case. the rift may split the whole Communist world, leaving Russia comparatively isolated and therefore weaker vis-a-vis the West.
In this situation, Khrushchev may well be interested in taking out an insurance policy by seeking an accommodation with the West. And while this might appeal to President de Gaulle and to this country. it could not he acceptable to the U.S. while Russian Communism remains what it is. Is Khrushchev then seeking to create a better image in American eyes by further liberalising his regime and setting the seal of respectability on it by a genuine rapprochement with the Vatican?
If this is indeed his intention. the agreement to allow Russian observers to attend the Vatican Council and the release of Archbishop Slipyj can easily be seen to form part of a deliberate policy.