Secretariat Files: Lot 122 (Rev.), Box 13147

Minutes of the Secretary of State’s Staff Committee, Friday Morning, April 20, 194564


[Here follows list of members of the Staff Committee, including absentees.]

The Committee met at 9:30 a.m.

Urgent Business

Relations with the Soviet Union

The United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Mr. Harriman, reported on relations with the Soviet Union.

Mr. Harriman said Mr. Molotov had come to see him immediately following President Roosevelt’s death. Mr. Molotov was greatly concerned, and questioned Mr. Harriman particularly about President’s Truman’s attitude. The Russians had respected Mr. Wallace,65 Mr. Harriman said, and had not understood his being dropped out. Mr. Harriman explained to Molotov that Truman was President Roosevelt’s choice.

On the next evening Mr. Harriman saw Stalin, who was very sober and like Molotov asked many questions. It was on this occasion that Stalin (somewhat against Molotov’s desires) agreed to Mr. Harriman’s proposal that Molotov come to the United States to call on President Truman and then go to San Francisco as an indication to the world of Stalin’s stated determination to deal with President Truman as he had with President Roosevelt.

Subsequently Mr. Harriman talked to Stalin about the Polish situation.66 Mr. Harriman said it was fair to say that since the Crimea Conference the Russians have been greatly disturbed by the fact that for the first time they realized that we were determined to carry through what we said (i.e. in regard to Poland and the Liberated Areas Declaration). We always have dealt directly and fairly and with full candor. This the Russians, accustomed to an atmosphere of suspicion and intrigue, do not understand. Furthermore, they have undoubtedly viewed our attitude as a sign of weakness. For example, they so interpreted our willingness to grant Soviet requests [Page 840] for increased lend-lease in the face of several developments which would have justified refusing their requests.

Mr. Harriman said it was also obvious the Russians after talking with Bierut67 and Company do not like the agreement with respect to Poland as well as they did at Yalta. This attitude is based principally on their belief that the Lublin Government68 could be kept effectively under Soviet domination, but that this would be difficult if any of the old Polish leaders had to be reckoned with. It seemed evident that Mikolajczyk69 and the other old leaders would be welcomed by the majority of Poles, and thus the Lublin group would be weakened. The Russians seem to be making every effort to make any reorganization of the Polish Government as much of a “white-wash” as possible.

Mr. Harriman said he felt the time had come to eliminate fear in our dealings with the Soviet Union and to show we are determined to maintain our position. He agreed with Mr. Grew that we have great leverage in dealing with the Soviet Union. He said one point worth remembering was that the Soviet Union wants very much to be a respected member of world society. The Russians are more afraid of facing a united west than anything else. In this connection Mr. Harriman thought our relations with the Soviet would be vastly improved if we could settle our differences with Great Britain and France.

Mr. Grew asked to what extent the Soviet leaders are afraid of isolationism. Mr. Harriman said their main problem is keeping internal control. The people were most anxious to have friendly relations with the outside world, particularly the United States. While they have liquidated all opposition, they are still sensitive to public demands and Mr. Harriman doubted they would be willing to face a break with the United States. He said that there were fears that the Russian people might become too internationally minded, and this fear had been responsible for a number of efforts made from time [Page 841] to time to create doubts about the position of the Allies, for example the Cairo separate peace rumors.70

Mr. Harriman also discussed Soviet information policy. He said it was perfectly clear that the Soviet Government has no intention of loosening its control of the press.

The basic and irreconcilable difference of objective between the Soviet Union and the United States, Mr. Harriman said, was its urge for its own security to see Soviet concepts extend to as large an area of the world as possible. This now arises in connection with their plans to establish friendly governments in bordering countries (e.g. Rumania, Bulgaria and Poland, with Finland temporarily the exception). Such governments are set up with Soviet assistance by leftist groups using secret police and other terroristic and undemocratic methods.

Mr. Harriman expressed the opinion that the Soviet Union, once it had control of bordering areas, would attempt to penetrate the next adjacent countries, and he thought the issue ought to be fought out in so far as we could with the Soviet Union in the present bordering areas.

Asked by Mr. Grew what course of action he would recommend, Mr. Harriman said he would first point out that we would have to face the realities of certain situations. For instance, if we joined the British in backing the present reactionary government in Iran, we would lose out. Each case would have to be studied individually. But, Mr. Harriman said, we must reestablish our respect in Moscow, and we must not tolerate Russian mistreatment of our people and disregard of our interests. He mentioned in this connection the case of an American seaman still being held in a Murmansk jail after his arrest on charges of drunkenness; he also mentioned the holding of a number of American airmen as hostages because the Russians suspected our air force of aiding the Polish Underground, and the closing down of American operations at Poltava. Mr. Harriman said he had recommended, in the case of the Poltava incident, that Soviet planes at Fairbanks be grounded at once, but the U.S. Army had vetoed this.

With regard to air communications routes, Mr. Harriman said there was no reason to accept the Soviet insistence on routing all flights via Tehran. He said that if the British would agree we could stop all outside air traffic with the Soviet Union. He said we ought now to inform the Russians that as of a certain date Tehran air travel would [Page 842] cease, and that we wished to operate two lines to Russia, one connecting with the Russians at Stockholm and one at Bucharest.

Mr. Harriman emphasized that we ought to take, at the present time, strong stands on minor points at first, to avoid giving the Russians the idea we had made a major change in policy.

With regard to the international security organization, Mr. Harriman said that if we had any basic differences with the Soviet Government, we should make it clear that, while we would be disappointed if the Soviet Union did not go along, we intend to go ahead with those nations which do see the problem as we do. At the same time we would always be ready to welcome full cooperation.

On Poland, Mr. Harriman said we should not recede from our position.

Referring to lend-lease assistance, Mr. Harriman said there had been a perfect case for action in Rumania. At the same time the Russians were stripping Rumanian oil installations and not taking the full advantage of Rumanian potentialities of production, they were asking us to double our lend-lease of petroleum.71 We had agreed to do this, even though our proposal for a tripartite commission in Rumania had been turned down by the Russians. If we had made an issue of it, we would doubtless have had our way.

At the conclusion of Mr. Harriman’s remarks, Mr. Rockefeller72 referred to what Mr. Harriman had said about the Soviet Union’s interpreting our attitude as a sign of weakness and Mr. Rockefeller said he had found this attitude mirrored in many Latin American countries, where governments were losing their respect for the United States for giving in to the Russians so frequently.

Mr. Grew asked Mr. Harriman to attend the next meeting of the Committee.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

  1. This meeting was presided over by the Under Secretary of State, Joseph C. Grew, in the absence of the Secretary of State.

    See also a memorandum of April 20 by Mr. Charles E. Bohlen, p. 231.

  2. Henry A. Wallace, Vice President of the United States, January 20, 1941–January 20, 1945.
  3. Presumably reference here is to Ambassador Harriman’s conversation with Stalin on the evening of April 15; see telegram 1189, April 16, 4 p.m., from Moscow, p. 223.
  4. Boleslaw Bierut, President of the Polish National Council (National Council of the Homeland), the Communist-dominated legislative body in Soviet-liberated Poland.
  5. By a decree dated July 21, 1944, of the Polish National Council, a Polish Committee of National Liberation was formed. Shortly afterwards, this Committee was established in Lublin and became known as the “Lublin Committee”. For an account of the establishment of this Committee, see telegram 2736, July 24, 1944, from Moscow, Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. iii, p. 1425. On December 31, 1944, the Polish National Council decreed the transformation of the “Lublin Committee” into the Provisional Polish Government. After the capture of Warsaw by the Red Army on January 17, 1945, the Polish Provisional Government moved from Lublin to Warsaw.
  6. Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile at London, July 14, 1943–November 24, 1944; leader of the Polish Peasant Party.
  7. The newspaper Pravda on January 17, 1944, had published a report from its own correspondent in Cairo based upon assertedly reliable information about a recent meeting in one of the coastal cities of the Iberian Peninsula between two responsible British officials and the German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. The purpose of the meeting was to find out the conditions of a separate peace with Germany. It was presumed that the meeting had not remained without results. Two days later Pravda printed a Tass despatch from London reporting that the Reuters Agency had stated that the British Foreign Office had denied the rumors from Cairo.
  8. For documentation regarding the concern of the United States over the removal of American-owned oil equipment from Rumania to the Soviet Union, see pp. 647 ff.
  9. Nelson A. Rockefeller, Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs.