Bohlen Collection

Bohlen Minutes

The President greeted Marshal Stalin when he entered with “I am glad to see you. I have tried for a long time to bring this about.”3

Marshal Stalin, after suitable expression of pleasure at meeting the President, said that he was to blame for the delay in this meeting; that he had been very occupied because of military matters.

The President inquired as to the situation on the Soviet battlefront.

Marshal Stalin answered that on part of the front, the situation was not too good; that the Soviets had lost Zhitomir and were about to lose Koresten [Korosten]—the latter an important railroad center for which the capture of Gomel could not compensate. He added that the Germans have brought a new group of divisions to this area and were exercising strong pressure on the Soviet front.

The President then inquired whether or not the initiative remained with the Soviet forces.

Marshal Stalin replied that, with the exception of the sector which he had just referred to, the initiative still remains with the Soviet Armies, but that the situation was so bad that only in the Ukraine was it possible to take offensive operations.

The President said that he wished that it were within his power to bring about the removal of 30 or 40 German divisions from the Eastern front and that that question, of course, was one of the things he desired to discuss here in Tehran.

Marshal Stalin said it would be of great value if such a transfer of German divisions could be brought about.

The President then said that another subject that he would like to talk over with Marshal Stalin was the possibility that after the war a part of the American–British merchant fleet which, at the end of the war, would be more than either nation could possibly utilize, be made available to the Soviet Union.

Marshal Stalin replied that an adequate merchant fleet would be of great value, not only to the Soviet Union, but for the development of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States after the war, which he hoped would be greatly expanded. He said, in reply to the President’s question, that if equipment were sent to the Soviet Union from the United States, a plentiful supply of the [Page 484] raw materials from that country could be made available to the United States.

The Conference then turned to the Far East.

The President said that he had had an interesting conversation with Chiang Kai-shek in Cairo, on the general subject of China.4

Marshal Stalin remarked that the Chinese have fought very badly but, in his opinion, it was the fault of the Chinese leaders.

The President informed Marshal Stalin that we were now supplying and training 30 Chinese divisions for operations in Southern China and were proposing to continue the same process for 30 additional divisions. He added that there was a new prospect of an offensive operation through North Burma to link up with China in Southern Yun[n]an and that these operations would be under the command of Lord Louis Mountbatten.

Marshal Stalin then inquired as to the situation in the Lebanon.

The President gave a brief description of the background and events leading up to the recent clashes, and in reply to Marshal Stalin’s question said that it had been entirely due to the attitude of the French Committee and General De Gaulle.5

Marshal Stalin said he did not know General De Gaulle personally, but frankly, in his opinion, he was very unreal in his political activities. He explained that General De Gaulle represented the soul of sympathetic6 France, whereas, the real physical France engaged under Petain in helping our common enemy Germany, by making available French ports, materials, machines, etc., for the German war effort. He said the trouble with De Gaulle was that this [his?] movement had no communication with the physical France, which, in his opinion, should be punished for its attitude during this war. De Gaulle acts as though he were the head of a great state, whereas, in fact, it actually commands little power.

The President agreed and said that in the future, no Frenchman over 40, and particularly no Frenchman who had ever taken part in the present French Government, should be allowed to return to position in the future. He said that General Giraud was a good old military type, but with no administrative or political sense, whatsoever. He added that there were approximately 11 French divisions, partly composed of Algerians and other North Africans, in training in North Africa.

[Page 485]

Marshal Stalin expatiated at length on the French ruling classes and he said, in his opinion, they should not be entitled to share in any of the benefits of the peace, in view of their past record of collaboration with Germany.

The President said that Mr. Churchill was of the opinion that France would be very quickly reconstructed as a strong nation, but he did not personally share this view since he felt that many years of honest labor would be necessary before France would be re-established. He said the first necessity for the French, not only for the Government but the people as well, was to become honest citizens.

Marshal Stalin agreed and went on to say that he did not propose to have the Allies shed blood to restore Indochina, for example, to the old French colonial rule. He said that the recent events in the Lebanon made public service the first step toward the independence of people who had formerly been colonial subjects. He said that in the war against Japan, in his opinion, that in addition to military missions, it was necessary to fight the Japanese in the political sphere as well, particularly in view of the fact that the Japanese had granted the least nominal independence to certain colonial areas. He repeated that France should not get back Indochina and that the French must pay for their criminal collaboration with Germany.

The President said he was 100% in agreement with Marshal Stalin and remarked that after 100 years of French rule in Indochina, the inhabitants were worse off than they had been before. He said that Chiang Kai-shek had told him China had no designs on Indochina but the people of Indochina were not yet ready for independence, to which he had replied that when the United States acquired the Philippines, the inhabitants were not ready for independence which would be granted without qualification upon the end of the war against Japan. He added that he had discussed with Chiang Kai-shek the possibility of a system of trusteeship for Indochina which would have the task of preparing the people for independence within a definite period of time, perhaps 20 to 30 years.

Marshal Stalin completely agreed with this view.7

[Page 486]

The President went on to say that Mr. Hull had taken to the Moscow Conference a document which he (the President) had drawn up for the purpose of a National [International?] Committee to visit, every year, the colonies of all nations and through use of instrumentalities of public opinion to correct any abuse that they find.8

Marshal Stalin said he saw merit in this idea.

The President continued on the subject of colonial possessions, but he felt it would be better not to discuss the question of India with Mr. Churchill, since the latter had no solution of that question, and merely proposed to defer the entire question to the end of the war.

Marshal Stalin agreed that this was a sore spot with the British.

The President said that at some future date, he would like to talk with Marshal Stalin on the question of India; that he felt that the best solution would be reform from the bottom, somewhat on the Soviet line.

Marshal Stalin replied that the India question was a complicated one, with different levels of culture and the absence of relationship in the castes. He added that reform from the bottom would mean revolution.

It was then 4 o’clock and time for the General Meeting.

The President, in conclusion, stated that an additional reason why he was glad to be in this house was that of affording the opportunity of meeting Marshal Stalin more frequently in completely informal and different [sic] circumstances.

  1. Regarding Roosevelt’s efforts, beginning in 1942, to bring about a meeting with Stalin, see ante, pp. 3 ff.
  2. Information regarding conversations between Roosevelt and Chiang at the First Cairo Conference may be found ante, pp. 322, 349, 366.
  3. See ante, p. 84, footnote 2.
  4. In a copy of the Bohlen minutes in the Hopkins Papers, the word “symbolic” is written in the margin at this point, and parentheses are inserted around “sympathetic”, in a handwriting which has not been identified. See in this connection the use of the word “symbolic” in the section headed “France and the French Empire”, post, p. 514.
  5. On March 17, 1944, in a conversation with Stettinius, Roosevelt recounted what had been said at Tehran regarding Indochina. Stettinius’s notes on the conversation, prepared that night, read as follows: “Then at Teheran the President raised the question with Joseph Stalin, who said that Indo-China should be independent but was not yet ready for self-government. He said that the idea of a trusteeship was excellent. When Churchill objected, the President said, ‘Now, look here, Winston, you are outvoted three to one.’” Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., Roosevelt and the Russians; The Yalta Conference (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1949), p. 238. The number “three” apparently refers to the concurrence not only of Roosevelt and Stalin, but also, at the First Cairo Conference, of Chiang Kai-shek; see ante, p. 325. See also F. D. R., His Personal Letters, 1928–1945, vol. ii, p. 1489.
  6. Document 44 of the Moscow Conference. The records of the Moscow Conference are scheduled to be published in Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. i. For a substantially identical version of the document referred to here, see Notter, p. 470.