740.00119 Control (Italy)/5–1545

No. 11
Memorandum by the Acting Secretary of State 1

top secret

Memorandum of Conversation

Participants: The President, the Acting Secretary of State, Ambassador Harriman, and Mr. Bohlen.

. . . . . . .

The Acting Secretary then said there was another matter which he would ask Ambassador Harriman to explain in detail, namely, that we all felt in the Department of State that it was of the utmost importance that the Big Three meeting should take place as soon as possible and not be postponed until July.

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Ambassador Harriman said that the problem of our relations with Russia is the number one problem affecting the future of the world and the fact was that at the present moment we were getting farther and farther apart. In addition to the general picture there were the specific and immediate questions such as the treatment of Germany on a tripartite basis, setting up of the Control Council, etc. on which no progress had been made with the Russians. There was, of course, the Polish question and many others. He said he felt that the establishment of a basis for future relations with Russia and the settlement of these immediate issues could only be done at a tripartite meeting, that the longer the meeting was delayed the worse the situation would get, and that while he assumed of course that we were not prepared to use our troops in Europe for political bargaining nevertheless if the meeting could take place before we were in a large measure out of Europe he felt the atmosphere of the meeting would be more favorable and the chances of success increased. He said he felt that Stalin was not getting accurate reports from Molotov or any of his people and as a result had grown deeply and unjustifiably suspicious as to our motives which he probably thought were designed to deprive him of the fruits of victory.

The President said that he agreed with that and felt that a meeting as soon as possible was most desirable. He added that he agreed with what the Ambassador said but that his difficulty was that he had a number of pressing domestic questions particularly the preparation of a budget message before the end of the fiscal year which made it difficult for him to leave before then. Ambassador Harriman said that he felt the President would be confronted with a much more difficult situation two months from now than he would if the meeting could be arranged within the next few weeks. The President said that he did not favor a meeting in Germany since he thought this time that Stalin should come over to meet us and he had in mind Alaska as a possible meeting place, and he was not favorably inclined to a prior meeting with the British which would give the Russians the impression that we were “ganging up” on them. He asked Mr. Bohlen’s opinion on these two points.

Mr. Bohlen replied that he felt that somewhere nearer Moscow whether it be Germany or somewhere else would be preferable since it was of great importance that Stalin be able to communicate quickly and securely with Moscow; otherwise there might be delay or at least greater difficulty in having any agreements reached stick once Stalin had returned to Moscow. He added that even at Yalta we all had felt that the Soviet failure to carry out the agreement reached there had been due in large part to opposition inside the Soviet Government which Stalin had encountered on his return. In regard to the second [Page 14] point Mr. Bohlen said that he did not feel that the fear of an impression of “ganging up” was very dangerous since he believed that the Russians considered it in the logic of things that Great Britain and America would be very close together and that a prior meeting with the British on the way to the Big Three meeting or in any other manner that could be arranged might on the contrary have a salutary effect and make Stalin more reasonable.

The Acting Secretary then asked the President what he thought of Vienna as a meeting place. The President did not appear to be unfavorably impressed with this idea and added that while these pressing domestic matters made it difficult for him, if the foreign situation really required he would of course be prepared to go very soon. He added that he had just had a message from the Prime Minister2 saying that the latter had taken up with Stalin the question of a meeting. Ambassador Harriman asked then would the President consider having the meeting in the early part of June to which The President replied that he would certainly consider it if the other two wanted it then.

The President asked Ambassador Harriman when he was going back3 and said that he felt someone should be in Moscow who could talk to Stalin. The Ambassador said he would of course go back whenever the President wanted him to but that he thought he should have a clear idea of what he was to say to Stalin and also some definite information as to the time and place of meeting. He added furthermore that in connection with the Yalta agreement on the Far East4 as the President knew Mr. Grew had been having meetings with the Secretaries of War and Navy5 as to the Yalta agreement and other questions affecting the Soviet Union in the Far East. He added that there were two subjects which had been discussed only orally at Yalta which should be clarified, namely, the question of Chinese unity and the question of a trusteeship for Korea.6 The President said that he thought provided the Ambassador was not delayed too long it would be wise for him to go back to Moscow with clarity on those subjects.

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In conclusion The President said that he would await word from Churchill as to Stalin’s reply before we would decide definitely in regard to the meeting.

J[oseph] C. G[rew]
  1. For another portion of this memorandum, see Grew, Turbulent Era, vol. ii, p. 1482.
  2. Document No. 10.
  3. To his post at Moscow.
  4. Signed at Yalta, February 11, 1945. For text, see Department of State, Executive Agreement Series No. 498; 59 Stat. (2) 1823; Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, p. 984.
  5. Henry L. Stimson and James Forrestal, respectively. With reference to Grew’s consultations with Stimson and Forrestal, see Grew, Turbulent Era, vol. ii, pp. 1455–1459; “The Entry of the Soviet Union Into the War Against Japan: Military Plans, 1941–1945” (Washington, Department of Defense, processed, 1955), pp. 68–71.
  6. See Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, pp. 770771.