The Secretary of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union
261. Please deliver the following message from the Secretary of State to Mr. Molotov:1
I have your letter of February fourteen sent to me through Ambassador Smith in which you protest against what you describe as the inadmissible behavior of the Under Secretary of State in making a statement before a Committee of the Senate of the United States which you consider as a rude slander and hostile to the Soviet Union.
The expression complained of was not volunteered by the Under Secretary but was in response to questioning by a member of the Senate. The answer was given in the course of questions explicitly ruled permissible by the Chairman of the Committee. The particular question and answer were as follows:
“Senator McKellar. Now, assuming that Russia is reaching out not only for those countries that she already has, but is reaching out for additions to her territory, do you not believe that if she gets this bomb discovery, she would take not only the remainder of Europe but perhaps the remainder of the world?
Mr. Acheson. Senator, I don’t think that that is a question which is capable of being answered in the way in which you ask it. I am quite aware of the fact that Russian foreign policy is an aggressive and expanding one. I think that one of the great efforts which everyone is making in the United Nations is to attempt to find means for solving problems of that sort. If those means and agreements can be found, then there is hope that there will not be major clashes. If they can’t be found, then I think the situation is very serious.”
You are thoroughly familiar with the Constitutional system of this Nation including the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of this Government. In accordance with our system [Page 533] an officer of the executive branch, called before a Committee of the legislative branch, is under a duty to answer frankly relevant questions not involving a matter of secrecy incompatible with the public interest. Such an exception did not exist here.
The conduct of the Under Secretary, therefore, in answering the question frankly and in accordance with his conscience cannot be described as inadmissible, but was rather in line of duty.
You characterize the content of his statement as a rude slander and hostile to the Soviet Union. Under our standards a restrained comment on a matter of public policy is not a slander. Therefore, I know that on second thought you will not attribute hostility to frankness.
Please advise immediately when you have delivered the message.2