Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Record of the Meeting of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, July 27, 1949, 2:30 p. m.1

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The Executive Branch Congress
Secretary Acheson Senator McMahon, Chairman JCAE
Secretary Johnson
Chairman Lilienthal Representative Durham, Vice Chairman
Commissioner Gordon Dean
Commissioner Henry Smyth Senator Hickenlooper
Commissioner Lewis Strauss Senator Johnson
Deputy General Manager Shugg Senator Knowland
Joseph Volpe, Jr. Senator Millikin
William Webster
Ernest Gross Representative Hinshaw
Adrian Fisher Representative Holifield
R. Gordon Arneson Representative Jackson
Representative Price2
Representative Van Zandt3

Secretary Acheson stated that the Executive branch had reviewed the situation following on the last meeting with the Committee and the matter had been discussed at some length with the President. As a result of these further deliberations he was authorized to make the following statement on instructions from the President. (Statement appended.)

Chairman McMahon asked whether there were any comments. For his own part he felt that the procedure which had been set forward with precision in the statement read by the Secretary was eminently satisfactory. Senator Johnson said that he thought it was an eminently fair proposal, one which left him “greatly relieved.” Senator Know-land expressed gratification at the position that had been explained by the Secretary and commented that it seemed to him to represent a satisfactory modus Vivendi between the Executive and Legislative branches. Representative Hinshaw said that on his own behalf, and he felt confident on the behalf of Representatives Elston and Cole, the proposal was most satisfactory. Other Democratic representatives spoke in similar vein.

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Senator Knowland remarked that there was one aspect of the problem which still worried him and that he wished to speak about it, not in a spirit of harassment, but rather to be helpful. He was concerned that there might be other Senators or Congressmen not represented on this Committee who might begin a concerted drive to have written into the MAP legislation language which might disbar any exchange of information whatsoever in the field of atomic energy. He felt that such a drive might be stopped dead in its tracks if members of this Committee could say that the President had in fact stated without any ambiguity that he felt disbarred from taking any action in this field without formal Congressional action. Considerable discussion ensued on this point. Secretary Johnson urged that the Committee not press the Executive for any firmer commitment than had been expressed in the Secretary of State’s statement. Senator McMahon expressed the view that the Congress generally would appreciate that atomic energy matters were within the jurisdiction of the Joint Committee. Senator Johnson felt that as long as the Committee maintained a united front on this matter and no member thereof attempted to build up pressure in the Congress for such MAP language, there was little likelihood that any other Senator or Congressman would meet with any success in attempting to do so.

Senator Hickenlooper appeared to be satisfied with the procedural situation as outlined by Secretary Acheson. He expressed at some length, however, his conviction that the substantive proposals that had been brought forward at the previous meeting and at Blair House were basically wrong, were not justified on the basis of raw materials needs, and contrary to the law. He indicated that he would oppose any arrangements along the lines that had been sketched, not only on the grounds of illegality under the Act but also on their merits. He stated that any proposal designed to give away our secrets was “offensive” to him.

Senator Millikin voiced concern about the attitude with which the Executive branch was considering conducting negotiations. He felt that we held all the aces and that they should be played. He thought that it should be relatively easy for the State Department to get the British to do anything we wanted them to do in this field. He was convinced that if our negotiators took a very firm line from the outset they could get what they wanted without even taking their coats off.

Considerable discussion took place on the question of a statement to be issued by the Committee on the meeting. The Chairman read to the Committee a draft which he had prepared which in effect was a paraphrase of the Secretary’s statement (which McMahon had seen before the meeting) and which went on to say at the end that the Committee expressed satisfaction with the procedures that had been proposed. Various members of the Committee were dissatisfied with the form [Page 505]of words suggested and proceeded to give detailed suggestions as to how the statement ought to read. The consensus seemed to favor a very short statement leaving to the President responsibility for putting out in a public release the assurances which the Secretary of State had given the Committee. Hickenlooper was the strongest advocate of this point of view. Senator McMahon inquired of Secretary Acheson whether he would urge the President to make a statement. This the Secretary undertook to do.4 As to the Committee’s own statement the discussion was inconclusive and the meeting broke up in some confusion on this point.

[Senator McMahon subsequently issued his own statement as Chairman without attempting to reflect Committee agreement.]5

[Annex]

Statement by the Secretary of State to the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy

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I have discussed with the President the points of view expressed by Members of this Committee at our last meeting. I advised him of the fact that a number of the Members of this Committee believed that the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 did not permit the exchange of weapons information with any foreign government except with the approval of the Congress.

The President believes that an issue which so vitally affects the national security of the United States is one which should be resolved on grounds of high policy and on the basis of a wide area of agreement between the Executive and Legislative branches. Accordingly, he has not considered it necessary to make a decision as to the respective authority of the Executive and Legislative branches of Government in this field since any action to be successful will have to have the support of both.

After careful study of the matter and in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, the Atomic Energy Commission and myself, the President has instructed us to obtain the reaction to the following proposed line of action:

The Secretary of State would have talks with the British and Canadians to attempt to secure their agreement to a continuation of the present modus vivendi for a period of some months beyond December 31, 1949. This continuation would not involve any expansion of [Page 506]the present nine areas of technical cooperation. It is recognized that there may be great difficulties in securing agreement to continue the modus vivendi but it is essential to attempt to arrange this. The purposes of holding the matter in status quo are (1) to assure the continued supply of raw materials essential to our weapons program and (2) to give the Executive and Legislative branches of the Government more time in which to consult with each other concerning the type of longer range agreements which this Government should attempt to conclude. The continuation of the present modus vivendi would not involve the exchange of information relating specifically and primarily to weapons or to the design or operation of plants for production of weapons materials or weapon parts. Such information is specifically excluded under the present technical cooperation program.

The Secretary of State, in the course of these talks concerning the continuation of the present modus vivendi, would explore with the British and Canadians the various problems that have been discussed with this Committee and inform them frankly of the difficulties involved in the information field in order to ascertain what can be done to meet the pressing needs of the United States. These talks would be only exploratory and would not involve the making of any agreements or the exchange of any technical information.

The results of these exploratory discussions will be referred hack to this Committee and will be discussed with the Committee at a time when the Congress is in session. In this way, there will be full opportunity to determine what, if any, Congressional action is required. In the meantime no commitments would be made other than to preserve the status quo.

  1. Prepared by Arneson, July 27.
  2. Representative Melvin Price of Illinois.
  3. Representative James E. Van Zandt of Pennsylvania.
  4. For text of the statement delivered by President Truman at his news conference, July 28, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1949 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1964), p. 402.
  5. Brackets appear in the source text The statement was released by Senator McMahon’s office on July 27.