740.00119 Council/9–1145

United States Delegation Minutes of the Nineteenth Meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, London, September 24, 1945, 4 p.m.

Inland Waterways

Mr. Byrnes in the chair.

Bidault recalled that the French Delegation had circulated a memorandum on this question.96 It represented the old and traditional French policy on this question. He wished to raise two questions. The first was that the Rhine Commission be set up where it had been located before, namely, at Strasbourg. In this connection he pointed out that the American memorandum97 provided for the restoration of the system that had previously been in existence as far as possible.

The second question he wished to raise related simply to the drafting. The French Delegation had submitted a memorandum on German problems.98 He did not want that problem to be prejudiced by any language used in connection with this matter and he proposed that in the American paper they say “the Control Council or German interests represented by the Control Council”.

Byrnes said he had no objection to the language “German interests as represented by the Control Council”. He asked if the Soviet Delegation would indicate whether it was willing to consider the American draft subject to any amendment that might be proposed.

Molotov said the Soviet Delegation proposed that its draft99 be taken subject to any amendments, What the Soviet Delegation was aiming at was to avoid any dual authority on any of these rivers.

[Page 346]

Byrnes said that this was provided for in Article 8 of the American paper and if the language in that paper was not specific enough other language could be considered.

Molotov said that Article 8 did not avoid dual authority but on the contrary sanctioned it.

Byrnes asked if the Soviet Delegation would suggest some language for that Article to make it clear that there should not be any dual authority.

Molotov proposed that they take Article 2 of the Soviet draft in order to accomplish this.

Byrnes asked if there were any other suggestions. He thought they could consider whether suitable language could be found without abandoning the principle of returning to an international control system along the lines that had existed before the war.

Molotov said that if they were to talk of a permanent regime they should invite the Czechs and Yugoslavs to participate. He did not mention for the time being other riparian states. In regard to a permanent regime for the Oder, Czechoslovakia and Poland should be called in.

Byrnes said he agreed and this was provided for in Article 10 which said that in regard to the question of permanent control there should be a conference of all interested states and this article provided that the conference should be called within three months and Czechoslovakia and every other interested state would be invited to attend.

Molotov asked what about other interested states such as Rumania and Austria.

Byrnes said that the United States Delegation thought that all interested states should be invited.

Molotov pointed out that he was talking of the present session of the Council of Foreign Ministers.

Byrnes replied that they were not now talking of a permanent regime. He agreed with Molotov that when it was a question of a permanent regime all interested states should be called in. He had said that in order to be sure that this regime was temporary, they should provide that it expire at the end of two years or at some other time.

Molotov said that not a single one of the riparian states had complained of the regime now existing and he therefore saw no need to change during the period of occupation.

Byrnes said that of course their attitudes depended upon the information they got. The United States information was that rivers were blocked and if they were not unblocked before freezing weather set in, they were apt to overflow their banks. It was necessary that work be done immediately and that it cover all parts of these rivers.

[Page 347]

Molotov said the Soviets did not have complaints from any allied government or any country situated on any of these rivers.

Bevin said that the Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia1 had told him that he was very concerned in regard to what would happen on the Elbe and had asked that measures be taken in common by the various states to deal with this problem.

Byrnes said that UNRRA officials had told us that it would help them to have navigation on these rivers.

Bevin said they knew that the Elbe was not open from the sea to Czechoslovakia.

Byrnes said that this was also the United States information.

Molotov replied that the Control Council in Germany could discuss this.

Byrnes replied that the Control Council could not act in such a way as to carry out the duties of the international commissions on these rivers.

Molotov pointed out that the Control Council had also not approached them in regard to this question.

Wang said that the most serious of Molotov’s arguments was the question of duality. To minimize friction he suggested that Article 2 of the American proposal be modified to read “the commander-in-chief of the different regions will form part of the commission and will be their chairman”.

Byrnes pointed out that in such cases as that of the Danube there would be more than one commander-in-chief and that it would be impossible to say that the commander-in-chief would be chairman. He would, however, be willing that the commanders-in-chief sit with the commission to be assured that their interests were protected.

Bevin pointed out that all of their experts were here and that if this could be approved in principle and a conference convened immediately they could refer the matter to them and ask them to advise the Council. One reason why he suggested this was that all riparian countries were, he believed, represented on the conference on European Inland Transport2 that was now taking place in London and that they could give their advice very clearly. If the Council could accept the United States draft as the basis, they would have a basis for their work.

Byrnes asked if his understanding was correct that Bevin proposed to refer this paper to the European Inland Transport Conference and ask them to give the Council a report on it.

Bevin replied in the affirmative.

[Page 348]

Byrnes said he would be disappointed if the Council of Foreign Ministers did not consider this question because of the deep interest which the United States had in the matter, but if this were not possible then he thought it wise to adopt the proposal made by Mr. Bevin.

Bevin pointed out that he did not approve that it be referred to the organization on European Inland Transport as such, but to the same people sitting as a commission. The members of that organization were the United States, the United Kingdom, the U.S.S.R., and France, together with one representative of each of the non-enemy riparian states.

Byrnes asked if Bevins proposed that they fix some time within which they would ask for a report to be submitted such as by the time of the next session of the Council of Foreign Ministers.

Molotov said that he did not see what a commission could do if a Council failed to agree. They had to agree on a basis and in this case the Soviet Delegation suggested that the Soviet proposal be taken as the basis. It still felt that it was important to avoid duality in orders issued by the commission and by the commanders-in-chief.

Bevin agreed with Molotov that if the principle were not decided in the Council there was no use in sending it to the Commission.

Byrnes said that if they could then not come to agreement they would have to pass over the question on the basis that it was hopeless and that they were unable to reach agreement.

Molotov suggested that they pass over the question until such time as all members of the Council of Foreign Ministers recognized that it was necessary to revert to it.

[Byrnes]3 The United States Delegation keenly regretted that the Council had not been able to take any positive action to restore navigation on the waterways of Europe. The waterways in Europe were not entities in themselves. They were not the concern of individual riparian States alone. They were a part of a whole network of communications and transportation. When other means of transportation were unable to carry goods, the waterways became the most vital of all means of communication. Distressed people of many countries could not wait upon months of leisurely debate among statesmen or technicians. They must have food, medicine, clothing and fuel now or suffer irreparably.

The United States Delegation came to this Conference with the high hope that the Conference would open the doors of river transportation in Europe. It was sorely disappointed that the Council [Page 349] had not been able to do this. It believed firmly that the members of the Commissions and the Allied Commanders could cooperate to relieve distress in those areas.

Molotov said he wished to add that the position of the Soviet Delegation did not differ from the position which would be adopted by any other government which found itself in the same position as that of the Soviet Government and which bore the same responsibility for occupied areas. Any other government that found itself in the position of the Soviet government would act similarly. The attitude of the Soviet Government fully corresponded with the interests of all the allied nations and represented the best way of improving navigation on the rivers in which the riparian states were interested.

Repatriation of Soviet Citizens

Molotov said that this was a very sore question for the Soviet Union and that this was not the first time they had approached the governments of Great Britain, the United States, and France in this matter.4 More than 4,000,000 Soviet citizens had been repatriated although 200,000 had not been repatriated. Many thus seized by the enemy had not been traced. The Soviet government thought that this solution for its nationals was more than justified. The Soviet government again wished to express its gratitude to the Government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France for the assistance given in the repatriation of Soviet citizens up to the present time. The Soviet government had concluded agreements with the governments of Great Britain, the United States, and France in regard to the liberation of Soviet nationals. These agreements had played a useful role up to now. However, cases had occurred which could not be considered normal and which worried the Soviet people very much. The Soviet Delegation asked that the greatest possible attention be given to its statements on this question. He pointed out that 21,400 United States nationals had been repatriated, and it seemed that one American who had been liberated had not yet been repatriated owing to his illness. Also 23,762 British nationals had already been repatriated and again one had not been returned because of illness. 294,160 French nationals had been liberated and repatriated up to the present. He had no information as to the French men not liberated, but everything was being done to accelerate their repatriation. The total figure of all allies, including prisoners of war, displaced persons including Poles, Czechs, Belgians, and Dutch, amounted to 794,113 persons.

Bevin pointed out that this was a difficult problem. So far as Soviet citizens in the ordinary way were concerned, they had done a [Page 350] good job. However, this matter involved the Baltic States and Polish areas east of the Curzon Line.5 It had been held that because they had agreed at Crimea to support the Curzon line,6 they had ratified it. The British held a different view. He had not been there but he had read the papers. The statement issued said what the three heads of governments considered ought to be the new frontier. The same had been stated in the House of Commons. He was anxious to settle this matter. In the Soviet-Polish Treaty7 provision for option had been made. No option had been given these people, however. The Baltic States were a separate problem. He asked in regard to the Poles, whether the British were to be expected to compel these people to go back whether they wanted to or not. This would be contrary to Britain’s oldest traditions and laws. It was a question whether these people become Soviet citizens when the frontier changed by two belligerents had not been induced by a general peace treaty, and what the legal position was in such a case. He was not putting this up to cause difficulty but felt that they must examine the problem in the most friendly manner.

He could not accept the Soviet claim in regard to the Balkan States and he did not know whether it was pressed. The British had encouraged every one to go, but he pointed out that there was the question of the Polish army. Many of these people came from Eastern Poland. Were they to have any option? The matter had been discussed with the Polish Government.

Bevin said he had made a speech in the House of Commons urging these people to go. The British had not had much assistance in the matter. So far as he knew all Soviet citizens, that is those included within the 1939 Soviet border, had either gone back or were awaiting transportation. They must resolve the question of principle and decide on a method in respect to the Poles in order to ascertain who were Soviet citizens. If they could decide that all Poles outside of the old Polish frontier include displaced persons and prisoners of war, which [and were?] deemed to be Poles unless they opted to go [Page 351] back to the Soviet Union, such a decision would administratively save them much trouble.

Byrnes said that as a result of the statement made by the Soviet Delegation at the time of the Potsdam conference,8 he had had investigations made and after reading the reports he was convinced that the United States authorities had done everything in their power to carry out their agreement with the Soviet Government on this subject. He added that investigation had also been carried out at Potsdam, but he referred only to those with which he was personally familiar. The matter was one which was in the hands of the military authorities and he had called on them to see that the agreement was faithfully carried out and he knew that they would do so. The situation as reported to me was much like that outlined by Mr. Bevin. There was no question of the desire of the military authorities to act in any case where the matter of citizenship was not raised. When, however, a person declared he was not a citizen of the Soviet Republic, then the military authorities must look into the matter to see whether he was or not. His Soviet friends knew that this faced us with a problem.

In the Yalta Agreement the three heads of Government had stated they considered that the eastern frontier of Poland should follow the Curzon Line with some digression in favor of Poland. The United States supported the Curzon Line and would certainly continue to do so. The agreement had been deliberately worded the way it was because President Roosevelt knew he could not speak on this for the Government of the United States; therefore the expression “heads of Government” had been used. Notwithstanding this President Truman felt the same way, and all that the President of the United States could do to support it would be done. Mr. Byrnes said he was not on the drafting group but he was told that the agreement had originally read “the three governments”, but that this had been changed to read “the three heads of Government” because the President did not want to overstep his authority. It had also been said that the matter would have to be settled at a peace conference by a treaty. The same thing had been said with regard to Silesia and East Prussia. So far as the President of the United States was concerned the United States would stand by the agreement with regard to Silesia and East Prussia. The question was, prior to such a settlement, a man said he was not a national of the Soviet Republic and could not be treated as such at this time. The United States military authorities tried to [Page 352] send them back but they were unable to do so when these persons denied they were Soviet citizens. The United States wanted to do what was right about the matter, but under United States law it was difficult to say that a man was a citizen when there was no cession of territory ratified by the United States Government. His Soviet friends must believe that the United States was not acclimated [actuated] by any desire other than to carry out the agreement, but this did present a serious problem.

Bidault said the French Delegation knew of grievances, chiefly individual cases. The solution of these through the diplomatic channel would have been easy. He preferred not to deal with individual cases. He had not been present at the Crimea conference and he was not so well informed as his colleagues, but in regard to the agreement signed between the Soviet Union and France he was ready to accept some of the proposals of the Soviet Delegation provided that the text was replaced by a bilateral text. An important number of French men had not yet been repatriated. He therefore asked that the first paragraph of the Soviet proposal be reciprocal in regard to visits to camps, and in this connection he said his information did not coincide with the information given earlier. Paragraph four of the proposal was unacceptable. The French Government was determined to apply every agreement both in the letter and in the spirit. What he had said about bilateral agreements did not exclude the French Government to participate in a general discussion of any question of principles raised.

Molotov said that of course the Soviet Delegation was only asking for reciprocity. He wondered how the matter stood. In Soviet British relations, from the point of view of reciprocity, only one British national had not been repatriated because of illness. The British authorities had made no complaints but there were tens of thousands of Soviet citizens in the British zone to which the Soviet Government had no access. For their part the Soviet Government had applied reciprocity.

With regard to the Western Ukraine and Western White Russia he did not completely understand the subtleties of the juridical questions to which Mr. Byrnes had referred when he expounded the point of view of the American Government. He wondered, however, whether he could take it that the border between the Soviet Union and Poland had been settled or whether it was still hanging in the air. He pointed out that the decision of the Berlin Conference said that the three heads of government agreed that pending a final determination of the peace settlement, former German territories east of such and such a line could be placed under the administration of Poland. At the Crimea Conference, however, the decision was that [Page 353] the three heads of government considered that the frontier should follow such and such a line. It would be noted that the difference was that there was no reservation in the Crimea decision. He wondered if Mr. Byrnes’s Legal Adviser had drawn his attention to this difference. Every one was clear that the sense of the decision in regard to the eastern frontier of Poland was a final decision so far as their three governments were concerned, and no one could doubt this who had read about the matter in the press. He drew attention to the fact that between the Soviet Union and Poland there was no difference of view and both governments agreed, as to the line, as to who should be considered Polish and who should be considered Soviet citizens.

What were the consequences of the statements of the American and British Delegations. Inhabitants of the Western Ukraine and White Russia who found themselves in the hands of British authorities were, in the Soviet view, Soviet citizens. Suppose some of them did not want to return home because they had assisted Hitler. If this fact gave rise to doubt as to whether they were Soviet citizens or not, then it might be that his British and American colleagues did not regard the 13,000,000 citizens in the Western Ukraine as Soviet citizens but as stateless persons. That was the result of the statements they had made. The Baltic republics had been mentioned. He would not dwell upon this question. It was well known where they were situated. Perhaps some people were not clear but the question was still practically in reality.

Let them take the instance of Vlassov,9 who was a traitor now in Soviet hands and who would be tried as a war criminal. Many of his men, however, were in American and British hands. It was obvious that this man wished to escape punishment. But why were such people held and why was it not wanted to return them to the Soviet Union for trial. Traitors must answer to their own countries for their treason in aiding Hitler. What interest did the American and British Governments have in these people. It was natural that allies should help each other to bring traitors back. He was not speaking of Latvia and Estonia, etc., but citizens of Kaluga and Moscow. The Soviet Union had never demanded the forceful return home of those citizens who were not criminals toward their motherland but who for some reason did not want to return. How was it possible not to give access to camps to Soviet officials in which, in their opinion, there were Soviet citizens. As sad as it might be many Soviet citizens [Page 354] had been brought into the clutches of Germans and many of these had been instilled with anti-Soviet propaganda. Now they were in British and American camps and their minds were muddled. Soviet officials wanted to explain things to them but had no access to the camps. How could they reconcile this with friendly relations between countries. He proposed that the Soviet proposal be taken as a basis and be referred to the Deputies.

Bevin said one would assume from the statements made that the British were anxious to assist criminals. He had seen the papers regarding Vlassov which ran to about five hundred pages, and he had passed them to the military commanders whose reply he was awaiting. As soon as he had all the facts he would inform Mr. Molotov, but he wished to point out that the problem was wider than that. The chief difficulty of the British was in regard to the Poles. In the document Mr. Molotov had read no treaty had been concluded.10 Mr. Churchill could not have done this without reference to Parliament. Mr. Bevin said he had no information in regard to the arrangement for the option by Poles and he only knew of this from newspaper reports. He had not been told officially. He had not claimed that 13,000,000 citizens were stateless, but some of these people who were abroad denied that they were Soviet citizens. The British had 900,000 Poles in their territory. Field Marshal Montgomery was anxious to send them back. The British had 100,000 prisoners of war, some of whose residences were east of the Curzon Line, but who claimed to be Poles. The generalizations, almost accusations, made by Mr. Molotov were not helpful. The Deputies could not deal with this matter. How could Deputies decide that the British Government recognized a given line and change the citizenship of people who had been told nothing about it. This had to be dealt with by the Government officials. He did not want to cause difficulty but he was anxious to solve this question.

He thought the whole question of the Eastern frontier should be cleared up. With regard to the Curzon Line he had heard a report that the people concerned would have a free choice of their citizenship but nothing had been conveyed to the British officials. The British constitution on these matters differed from the American but the British were anxious to get this matter cleared up. When he was in Potsdam he had asked the Polish Government if these people would get the same treatment as other Poles, but he had not yet gotten [Page 355] that matter cleared up. The British Government had to face public opinion, and any government that took steps that disregarded human rights would not last long. He wished to add that the latest figure of Poles held by the British was 500,000. He wished to emphasize that the British promise to support the eastern frontier of Poland, as provided at Yalta, would be adhered to. This was no political question in regard to a line but a difficulty in regard to the actual persons concerned.

Byrnes said that we would gain nothing by sending this to the Deputies who would not be able to help them. His friend, Mr. Molotov must believe that the United States had no desire other than to cooperate in this matter. If any of General Vlassov’s men were in United States custody Mr. Molotov could rest assured that he had no sympathy for them. This, however, was a difficult question. Molotov had said he did not wish to force people to return unless they were criminals. If they were war criminals there would be no difficulty, under the agreement reached, in having them turned over regardless of whose custody they were in. Molotov could rely upon it that the matter would again be taken up with the military authorities and that the United States would return all who wanted to return and those in regard to whose citizenship there was no doubt. He was glad the matter had been brought up because it had caused them to give thought to the important question of citizenship of people in the territory in regard to which they had been talking. He would like to know what the arrangements were regarding option in the agreement between the Soviet Union and Poland. He pictured an army officer confronted with a man who, when he left home, naturally was a citizen of Poland. Now he was told that the line had been changed and he was a citizen of the Soviet Republic. He, or some lawyer for him, could say that a treaty gave him the right to opt. This raised all sorts of questions which they could not settle in the Council.

Molotov must believe that we were anxious to settle this matter and that we would take it up to find the best way to settle a problem which he could see had given the Russians a lot of meditation.

Bevin said he preferred to deal with it through the diplomatic channel and that he would deal with it vigorously.

Molotov said this was a sore question for the Soviet Union as a large number of Soviet citizens were involved. Immediately after the Crimea Conference the Soviet Government had signed agreements with the American and British governments in regard to repatriation. At that time no question arose as to who were Soviet nationals. If it had they would have given explanations. Neither the British nor the American Government had made any reservations.

[Page 356]

In regard to the Polish-Soviet agreement respecting the frontier and the arrangement for option, he would provide both the British and American Governments with these agreements.

He asked if they could agree on the following decision:

“The Council of Foreign Ministers takes note of the statements of the British, United States and French Delegations to the effect that their Governments will take all necessary measures to accelerate the repatriation of Soviet citizens and that all proper facilities will be given in pursuance of this object”.

Bevin proposed adding the words “… agreed definition of Soviet citizens”.

Molotov said he would be happy to accept this but it would not be easy to agree taking into account such countries as Latvia and Estonia, and that many Poles would be involved.

Bevin proposed having the question of “definition of Soviet citizens” pursued through diplomatic channels.

Molotov said this could not be recorded.

Bevin said he did not press the matter as long as it was understood they could do it. He was trying to cut out a lot of authorities and to deal with it through the diplomatic channel.

Molotov suggested that in regard to Poles they might have a special agreement.

Byrnes said there should not be any misunderstanding. If Mr. Molotov was agreeable to trying to solve this matter through the diplomatic channel that was all right, but if agreement was to be arrived at on a resolution and they had a difference in regard to what constituted a national of the Soviet Republic, it would serve no purpose to say they had agreed. He would want it understood that the United States would have to determine in each case who was a Soviet citizen. That was the burden of our military authorities.

Molotov asked if Soviet representatives would be given access to camps in which they have information that there are Soviet citizens.

Bevin said he could not answer that before going into the matter.

Molotov said that this was the Soviet proposal.

Bevin said he could not answer that at this session. That is why he wanted it to be handled through diplomatic channels so that it would pass into his hands. Some of these things were dealt with under other departments. He could not, at any rate settle the matter this week.

Molotov said the Soviet paper had been in their hands for weeks.

Bevin said he had been studying it on the legal ground.

Byrnes said he had to leave the meeting and would ask Mr. Dunn to take his place.

[Page 357]

Bevin asked if Mr. Molotov would take his word and not insist on such and such a method.

Molotov said he at least requested that they accept his proposed resolution.

Bevin asked what this meant.

Molotov replied that Soviet officers could visit the camps.

Bevin said he could not agree.

Molotov said he would not specify but the matter would become clear after reading the Soviet memorandum.

Bevin said he could not give a pledge to another country at this moment that he would give access to the camps.

Molotov then proposed that they decide that they had reached no agreement.

Bevin said that perhaps if he could see the Soviet proposal in writing they might be able to reach agreement the next day.

Molotov said he agreed.

Dunn noted that no agreement had yet been reached.

Bidault said he was ready to accept the Soviet draft on condition of reciprocity in regard to French citizens of Alsace and Lorraine.

Molotov said that if the French representative had any measures to propose he could let them know and they would deal with it.

Bidault said he only asked that his suggestions be taken into account.

The meeting adjourned.

  1. C.F.M.(45) 33, September 19, p. 261.
  2. C.F.M.(45) 1, September 12, p. 132.
  3. C.F.M.(45) 17, September 13, p. 177.
  4. C.F.M.(45) 43, September 22, p. 324.
  5. Zdenek Fierlinger. The British minutes of this meeting record that Bevin recalled that Fierlinger had spoken of the matter during his recent visit to London (Council of Foreign Ministers Files: Lot M–88: CFM London Minutes).
  6. See pp. 1389 ff.
  7. According to the British minutes of this meeting, this and the following paragraph are attributed to the Secretary of State and were preceded by the following statement by the Secretary: “Mr. Byrnes said that he could not agree to this, as it would mean that any one Foreign Minister could prevent it from being discussed.” (Council of Foreign Ministers Files: Lot M–88: CFM London Minutes)
  8. For additional documentation regarding the repatriation to the Soviet Union of prisoners of war and displaced persons, see vol. v, pp. 1067 ff.
  9. In regard to the origin of the Curzon Line, and for a description of it, see Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vol. xiii, pp. 793794. Further details are in H. W. V. Temperley, A History of the Peace Conference of Paris (Oxford, 1924), vol. vi, pp. 233–283, 317–322; and summary descriptions in S. Konovalov, Russo-Polish Relations: An Historical Survey (London, 1945), pp. 33–38, 57–63. For a map showing the Curzon Line, see Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943, facing p. 601.
  10. President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and Marshal Stalin agreed at the Crimea Conference, February 4–11, 1945, “that the eastern frontier of Poland should follow the Curzon Line with digressions from it in some regions of five to eight kilometers in favor of Poland.”; see Report of the Crimea Conference, February 11, 1945, Conferences at Malta and Yalta, pp. 968, 974.
  11. Reference is to the treaty between the Soviet Union and the Polish Provisional Government concerning the Soviet-Polish state border, signed at Moscow, August 16, 1945; for text, see United Nations Treaty Series, vol. x, p. 193.
  12. Apparently reference is to the aide-mémoire of July 1945, from the Soviet delegation to the United States delegation, Conference of Berlin (Potsdam), vol. ii, p. 1165. For additional documentation regarding the discussion at the conference of the repatriation of Soviet citizens, see ibid., p. 1637, index entries under Soviet Union: Repatriation of alleged Soviet nationals.
  13. Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov, Lieutenant General in the Soviet Army until his capture in 1942 by German forces; Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (an anti-Soviet group) from January 1945 until May 1945 when he was captured by the Soviet Army.
  14. According to the British minutes of this meeting, Bevin said at this point: “M. Molotov had quite rightly said that at the Crimea Conference the Heads of Governments had considered that the Polish-Soviet frontier should follow the Curzon line. But they had said no more than that.” (Council of Foreign Ministers Files: Lot M–88: CFM London Minutes)