Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Henderson)
Mr. Oumansky, the Soviet Ambassador, called upon me this morning, after having first seen Mr. Moffat, in order to introduce the new Counselor of the Embassy, Mr. Gromyko.
During the conversation which followed, Mr. Oumansky said that he had been charged to bring greetings from a number of mutual friends in Moscow, including Mr. Steinhardt. Mr. Steinhardt, he said, was working very hard and was making much progress in removing certain obstacles to the improvement of Soviet-American relations. Mr. Molotov had been taking special interest in Soviet-American relations and was doing all that he could to cooperate with Mr. Steinhardt. The desire of the Soviet Government to meet the wishes of the American Government was evidenced by the fact that most of the Soviet wives of American citizens who had hitherto been detained in the Soviet Union were now being permitted to depart.62 Mr. Oumansky added that he regretted that he found upon his arrival in Washington an atmosphere which did not correspond to the friendly atmosphere in which Mr. Steinhardt was working.
I told Mr. Oumansky that I hoped that he did not mean to convey the idea that American Governmental circles had failed to show a proper spirit of cooperation with the Soviet Embassy.
He replied that he was referring to the press campaign which had recently been waged against the Soviet Government, the Embassy, and himself, and which appears to have sharpened since his arrival in the United States. Although this campaign was unfair and based on false premises it had not made so deep an impression upon him as had the failure of the American Governmental circles to show any reaction with respect to it. He said that he felt that if an appropriate statement had been made at the proper time by responsible American officials, the campaign would not have reached its present degree of intensity. He had not come in to see me in order to make complaints, but speaking to me on a personal basis, he felt impelled to say that he was very much distressed to learn that Mr. Hull during a press conference on November 13 had failed to give answers to a number of questions which would have put a stop at once to the press attacks against himself. He had been given to understand that in reply to two or three questions relating to charges which the press had falsely made against him, the Secretary had merely stated that he had nothing to say on the subject.[Page 860]
I told Mr. Oumansky that I was not acquainted with the nature of the questions or of the Secretary’s reply, but I was confident that the Secretary had not made any statement which was calculated to give encouragement to newspaper or other campaigns against the Soviet Embassy or against Mr. Oumansky. I said that it was hardly necessary for me to point out that there was a free press in the United States and that neither the American Government nor American Governmental officials could be held responsible for statements contained in the press. I added that I was certain that no one in the State Department and also no responsible American Governmental official was lending any encouragement to the writing of articles unfriendly to Mr. Oumansky. I added that I personally felt that personal attacks by the press upon representatives of countries with which the United States maintained diplomatic relations were not in good taste and were not in general constructive and that I was sure that my views were generally shared by other members of the Department.
Mr. Oumansky said that he hoped that when an occasion should present itself, some responsible Government official would make it clear to the public that the campaign was not being sponsored or looked upon with favor by the American Government. He said that a simple statement to the effect that the Department was in possession of no facts which would justify an investigation of Mr. Oumansky would be helpful in clarifying the atmosphere. This expression of hope on his part should not be considered as a formal request, but merely as a personal statement from himself to me.
I told Mr. Oumansky that since he desired that our conversation be kept upon a personal plane, it would perhaps be advisable for me not to make any memorandum regarding it.
He replied that I should use my own judgment with respect to the preparation of a memorandum; that it was his hope that if I did bring his views to the attention of other officials of the Department, I would make it clear that he was not making any formal representations or a request of any kind.
During our conversation I did not take exception to his remark regarding the “friendly atmosphere” in which Mr. Steinhardt was working. I did not desire to give Mr. Oumansky the erroneous impression that the press campaign against him in this country was connected with the treatment which the Soviet authorities are accustomed to accord to our Embassy in Moscow. The fact is that while Mr. Troyanovsky was Soviet Ambassador here he had an excellent press at a time when our Embassy in Moscow, like other diplomatic [Page 861]missions in that city, was being treated with marked discourtesy. Neither did I point out to him that the present campaign against him undoubtedly would not have reached its present proportions if the hostility had not been aroused of certain influential groups in this country, who felt that he personally had misled them into believing that the Soviet Union could be depended upon as an ally against the Nazi regime in Germany.
Attached hereto are the pertinent excerpts from the Memorandum of the Press Conference of November 13, 1939.63