Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation and Communications (Norton) to the Under Secretary of State (Lovett)

Subject: Preparation of a reply to the USSR note of May 8 in which the USSR proposed that the four powers invite Yugoslavia to be host to the Conference in Belgrade on May 30.*.

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A. United States Objectives re Danube Conference.

Overall objective in emphasizing the continuing interest of the United States in developments in the Balkans and the intention of the United States to continue to participate in that area whenever a legitimate opportunity arises.
Free and open navigation on the River for vessels of all nations. (This is not an end in itself but a means of opening up the area for trade with the West.)
Obtaining a reciprocal agreement which could allow the use of the River for East-West trade.

In addition to these objectives, there is an additional consideration of some current importance as the result of the Molotov-Stalin1 propaganda of the last ten days. If it is believed that pressure is developing in the United States for some evidence that the United States is willing to negotiate on specific problems with the USSR, the Danube Conference might be considered as useful. This would offer an opportunity to participate in a Conference behind the “Iron Curtain” under conditions in which the USSR would have to make concessions if the Conference were to be successful. As noted below, there are propaganda problems in terms of the western minority position in such a Conference.

B. Prospects at the Conference.

Matters of substance. In the absence of an almost complete reversal in USSR policy, there is no prospect of any important substantive gains from the Conference. The only possible exception would be that a basis might be formed for reciprocal agreement on use of the River. The stated objective of the Conference would be to establish a convention for a new regime. The Convention which would be prepared by such a Conference would be either (a) of the type we could not accept or (b) drafted in such vague terms as to be meaningless.
Propaganda. To date there has been no publicity on conference prospects with the exception of an inaccurate Reuters despatch indidicating agreement by the four powers to hold the Conference in May. As far as we know, Moscow propaganda has not mentioned the Conference. Undoubtedly, however, Soviet propaganda will start its barrage at such time as it feels it has an advantage. In view of the unlikely prospect of any substantive progress at the Conference, the determination of whether the United States should push for participation should be settled largely on the basis of an evaluation of propaganda prospects.
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If we continue to take an active part in pushing for the Conference with US participation, we would be demonstrating in a practical manner our desire to continue to negotiate. More fundamental, however, would be the propaganda results in terms of the overall US objective in demonstrating continuing interest in the area. In this respect, we would have the advantage of being behind the “Iron Curtain” and presumably using to the full our presence there and our broad non-imperalist objectives for propaganda purposes. We would have the disadvantage, however, of being in a minority position which would demonstrate our impotence to do anything practical in the area. In addition, we would probably have to disapprove of the results of the Conference and, therefore, lay ourselves open to the charge of a veto on the results of a meeting of the Balkan States.

If we take an obstructionist position at this time, the propaganda initiative will be turned over to the Soviet and will undoubtedly be used to the utmost. We will be charged with failing to implement a prior agreement and attempting to obstruct the peaceful development by the riparian states of a waterway essential to their prosperity. Our arguments for breaking off will only sound persuasive to those already convinced of the uselessness of further negotiations with the Soviet.

C. Developments to Date

1946 through the U.S. note of April 12, 1948. In December 1946, Molotov accepted the proposal for a Danube Conference and for the insertion of the free and open navigation clauses in the Satellite Treaties in a deal with Mr. Byrnes2 which resulted in the United States releasing barges of the Yugoslavs, Hungarians, and others that had been held in the United States zone in Austria.
The period for calling the Conference as provided in the CFM resolution was due to end on March 15, 1948. The United States opened the matter in its first note of February 27, 1948 in order to avoid letting the commitment to call a Conference pass by default. The United States suggested that the period for calling the Conference be extended to the end of 1948. The French and British were consulted before the note was despatched and rather reluctantly agreed that such a move was desirable.
On March 15, the Soviet replied that they could not agree to a postponement until the end of the year and suggested that the Conference be held in April or May in Belgrade.
On April 12, the United States replied stating that it agreed to the holding of the Conference “as soon as possible after the four powers agreed to the necessary arrangements”. It urged agreement on (1) Austrian participation in some form; and (2) Recognition of the relevance of the free and open navigation provision of the Satellite Treaties with special reference to military occupation and military lines of communication. In addition, the United States suggested an “exchange of views” in Washington in order to make arrangements for the Conference.
USSR Position re their note of May 8. In its note of May 8 recommending agreement on a Conference for May 30, the USSR has met fully only one US “condition” i.e., that the Conference be arranged by the big four in accordance with the CFM resolution. It has been vague in reply to another condition, i.e., recognition of the “free and open navigation” principle. (In the note of May 8—the USSR refers to the Satellite Peace Treaties where this principle is stated but does not spell out the principle itself.)
The USSR did not comment on the United States “assumption” that military occupation and military lines of communications would not interfere with implementation of the free and open navigation principle.
The USSR has refused to agree to Austrian participation. However, this was never a full “condition” in as much as the CFM resolution does not provide for Austrian participation until the peace treaty has been “settled”.
The USSR refused the United States suggestion for an “exchange of views” on making arrangements for the Conference as unnecessary and time wasting. This, however, was not a “condition”. The United States could agree to try to work out arrangements by diplomatic exchanges which in its view would be more, rather than less, time consuming.
On balance, therefore, the USSR is complying strictly to the CFM resolution and is in a good position, propagandawise, if the United States becomes obstructionist at this stage.
French and British Positions. Before a reply is made to the Soviet note of May 8, there must be full agreement with the French and British as to the next steps and closest collaboration in preparing for all contingencies.
British Position. The British have proposed for our consideration a note to the USSR pointing out that the U.K. will not be willing to participate in a conference until the four powers have agreed that the decisions of the conference be referred back to the Big Four for approval. The British also argue that, in the absence of establishing [Page 610] an agreed new convention, their prewar legal rights would still be valid. The British would also continue to argue for full Austrian participation.
French Position. There have been informal indications that the French are considering a reply covering the following points:
Results of the conference should be referred back to the Big Four;
Austria should participate;
There should be more explicit recognition of free and open navigation;
It is premature to set a date for the Conference;
It is premature to discuss freedom of entry and adequate facilities for correspondents, etc.
United States Position, (a) Conditions that would be insisted upon. If the United States should take a positive position for supporting the early calling of the Conference, it would insist upon:
Entry and facilities for representatives of the press and radio, and absence of censorship on conference reporting. Also request short-range broadcasting facilities, although this undoubtedly would be refused.
It would also insist upon prior agreement by the USSR and Yugoslavia for the entry of US courier planes flying between Frankfurt, Belgrade via Vienna with agreement that a minimum of three flights per week during the course of the conference would be allowed.

An additional possible move by the United States of some propaganda value would be to request agreement from the Soviet and all other interested countries for passage of the United States Delegation by vessel from the United States Zone in Germany to Belgrade. Such passage has been impossible to date.

(b) Status of other “Conditions”.

Austria. The United States has advocated Austrian participation primarily for propaganda purposes. The United States could continue to urge this point. In substance, however, it seems very doubtful if it would, in fact, be desirable for Austria to be represented as a full participant. Their presence would still leave the West in a minority position and might well embarrass Austria. In addition, their absence would give the United States additional propaganda material in arguing that the results of the Conference would not be binding on the Austrian and German portion of the River. Accordingly, it is recommended that the United States not insist upon full Austrian participation, although we might argue for representatives to be available in a consultative capacity or as observers.
Free and Open Navigation. We might once more argue for free and open navigation. However, if we used this as a point for breaking off, the Soviet would deny that it ever refused to accept the principle. It would point to its reference in its note of May 8 to the Satellite Treaties and argue, fairly effectively, that this constituted implicit recognition and, in any event, that, in the absence of a disavowal [Page 611] of the principle by the Soviets, the United States had no basis for arguing that the Soviet had refused the principle. Accordingly, it is suggested that this condition should be fully aired in our propaganda but that its more explicit recognition by the Soviet should not be used as an absolute condition in terms of forming the United States Position.

D. Summary

The position for participating and taking the initiative in publicity rests essentially upon an analysis of propaganda prospects. The position for participation depends upon: (1) the view that there is real need for a gesture in terms of continuing to negotiate; (2) propaganda advantage in participating; and (3) propaganda disadvantages in holding back at this late date. If there is no substance to point (1) and if the evaluation of the propaganda position does not favor participation, the case for participation collapses and the recommendation should be for a reversal aimed at avoiding participation.

E. Recommendation:

In as much as I am of the view that (1) we would be in an unfortunate position if we are faced with a new Moscow propaganda blast to the effect that we are not only refusing to negotiate but failing to live up to a prior agreement to do so; and (2) that we have a good propaganda case if we take the initiative, I recommend that the United States advise the French and British immediately that it wishes to take a positive position on the Conference and that before taking definite action, it wishes to be sure that the French and British will be willing to support the position to participate and to collaborate closely on matters of subsance and on matters of propaganda. I am attaching a copy of rough draft of the type of reply that might be submitted to the Soviet if this position should be accepted.3

In the event that the decision is made that the United States should avoid participation at this time the following points should be made in reply to the Soviet. In the first place, refusal of the Soviet to agree to a pre-conference exchange of views (as has been arranged upon Soviet insistence prior to other conferences for example, the World Telecommunications Conference) will result in delaying rather than expediting reaching agreed arrangements for the Conference. In addition we should state our continued view that Austria should participate at least in a consultative capacity and, also, insist upon a more explicit recognition of the principle of free and open navigation as an agreed principle which would be implemented by the Conference rather than a subject for discussion at the Conference. I am attaching a copy of a rough draft of the type of note that might be used if this position should be taken.3

  1. The British Embassy has reported that its Ambassador in Belgrade discussed informally this prospect with the Political Director of the Yugoslav Foreign Office who said that it would be impossible to arrange facilities in May and most difficult for any time in June. The Yugoslavs apparently were “informed” at about the same time the USSR note was sent to us. [Footnote in the source text.]
  2. Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union.
  3. There is attached a copy of the memorandum of 3/30/48 on this subject and copies of notes exchanged between February and May 8 of this year between the four governments. [Footnote in the source text. Copies of the documents referred to are not attached to the file copy of this memorandum.]
  4. James F. Byrnes, Secretary of State, 1945–1947.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not printed.