740.00119 European War 1939/2465a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the Soviet Union ( Harriman )

881. On Saturday, April 1, the Soviet Ambassador left with me a memorandum44 containing the exchange of communications between the British Ambassador in Moscow and Mr. Molotov concerning the British proposal that the principle of unconditional surrender be modified in so far as satellite countries are concerned although retained in regard to Germany. The Soviet reply expresses concurrence with the British view and agrees with the suggestion that British, American, and Soviet Governments should be released from the Moscow decision concerning the application of the unconditional surrender principle to the satellite powers. In this memorandum the Soviet Government states that before making final decision regarding the British proposal it would like to know the opinion of the American Government on this question. (As you can obtain from your British colleague the full text of these communications, the text of the Soviet memorandum is not being telegraphed to you.)

[Page 595]

Having received from the British Embassy here a similar proposal45 concerning the abandonment of the principle of unconditional surrender in the case of the Axis satellite states, it was submitted to the President prior to the receipt of the Soviet memorandum. The President has replied expressing strong disapproval of the British suggestion and insisting that the principle of unconditional surrender should be preserved intact not only for Germany but for the Axis satellite countries as well.

After receiving the Soviet memorandum supporting the British position the question was submitted to the President for possible reconsideration. He has replied that he is still opposed to any general departure from the principle of unconditional surrender before a specific case arises. He feels to do so would be to start a general abandonment of the principle as a whole and that any exception would serve as a precedent which would apply in all future cases. The President, however, understanding that from time to time the application of this principle to specific cases will have to be modified, is prepared to consult with the British and Soviet Governments in the case of any particular satellite country.

In the light of the President’s decision we are replying to the British and Soviet Governments through their Ambassadors here along the following lines:

[Here follows summary of memorandum to the Soviet Embassy, April 11, printed on page 593.]

Sent to Moscow, repeated to London.46

  1. Dated March 31, p. 586.
  2. See memorandum by the Secretary of State to President Roosevelt, March 25, p. 584.
  3. As telegram 2878.