Secretary’s Memoranda, Lot 53 D 444

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Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State 2

secret
Participants: The Secretary—Mr. Acheson
The Turkish Foreign Minister—Necmeddin Sadak3
Feridun Erkin, Turkish Ambassador
Ambassador Edwin C. Wilson, S/P 4
J. C. Satterthwaite, Director, NEA

After an exchange of amenities during the course of which Mr. Sadak said that he had been instructed by President Ismet Inönü to transmit to the President and me the latter’s warmest greetings, the Minister said that with my permission he would review the position in which Turkey found itself as a result of the recent signature of the North Atlantic Treaty.5 In March 1947 the United States Government had announced its program in support of the independence and security of Turkey.6 Subsequent to that time, this support was confirmed through the very effective military assistance which Turkey, has received from the U.S.

Later the formation of the Western Union took place, and then came reports that negotiations would begin looking to a security arrangement with the United States for the North Atlantic area. In the autumn of 1948 conversations took place at Ankara with the U.S. and U.K. Ambassadors in which the Turkish Government raised the question of Turkey’s position in the contemplated security arrangement. The Turkish Government was informed in reply by written memoranda received from the U.S. and U.K. Ambassadors, that while details of the proposed arrangement had not yet been formulated, the [Page 1648]conception was clearly a geographical one, restricted geographically in scope to countries of the North Atlantic region. Specifically the Turkish Government was informed that Italy would not be included. Subsequently, however, it was learned that Italy and the territory in North Africa comprising the Algerian departments of France would in fact be brought within the scope of the North Atlantic Pact.7

This new situation created serious problems for the Turkish Government and caused confusion and perturbation in Turkish public opinion. The Turkish Government having been previously informed that the contemplated pact would be limited geographically in scope and that Italy would not be included, had so informed the Turkish National Assembly. The Turkish Government and Turkish opinion were satisfied with this situation, since the geographical conception of a North Atlantic Pact was readily understandable, and this, of course, left the door open for later consideration of a Mediterranean security arrangement within which Turkey might hope to find an appropriate place together with other Mediterranean countries.

The announcement that the geographical basis of the pact had been completely altered and that Italy, a Mediterranean country, was being brought into the pact, completely upset the situation so far as the views and plans of the Turkish Government were concerned and, as stated, caused deep uneasiness on the part of Turkish public opinion. It was difficult to avoid the impression that Turkey, in the most exposed position of all European countries as regards pressure and possible attack from Soviet Russia, was being abandoned and left outside the thinking of the Western powers as regards security arrangements.

This seemed all the more incomprehensible to the Turkish Government and people inasmuch as Turkey had been undergoing constant Soviet pressure and threats since the spring of 1945 when Soviet Russia denounced its nonaggression pact with Turkey and made demands affecting Turkish territory and bases in the Straits. Since that time Turkey has been supporting heavy sacrifices by maintaining a large armed force to withstand Soviet threats, at the cost of what is becoming an unbearable burden upon Turkey’s economy and finances. The fear began to creep into Turkish minds that with the negotiation of the Atlantic Pact the United States had altered its position regarding Turkey and that it no longer maintained the powerful interest in the maintenance of Turkey’s independence and integrity which had characterized the attitude of the United States Government since 1946. Soviet propaganda, it might be added, had not been slow to make the most of this situation.

[Page 1649]

Mr. Sadak said that he was frankly at a loss to know what explanation he could give to the Turkish Parliament and public. He would greatly appreciate any help that I might be able to give him.

In reply I said that I thought it might be of assistance in explaining the position of my government to review the recent history of Turkish-American relations. The security of the Middle East was one of the most important problems with which the Department was confronted soon after I became Under Secretary in 1945. In 1946 the Soviet demands on the Turkish Straits were made. The Department and the President took such a serious view of these demands that for a large part of a week it was necessary for me, as Acting Secretary of State, to devote almost all my time to the consideration of this problem. Under the instructions of the President, daily meetings were held with the Secretaries of War and the Navy and with the Army, Navy, and Air Force Chiefs of Staff. The conclusion was reached that the real purpose of the Soviet demands was the domination of Turkey and that this would be contrary to the vital interests of the U.S. As a result a strong position was taken by the U.S. Government in support of Turkish independence with the full knowledge of the possible consequences. The President considered this the most important decision he had made subsequent to the bombing of Hiroshima.8

In March 1947 the British Ambassador informed General Marshall that the British Government on economic grounds would have to withdraw its support of Greece and Turkey. Again the President and the Department attached the highest importance to this development. This time consultations were held not only with the Secretaries of War and the Navy and the Service Chiefs of Staff but also with 20 leaders of the Congress. The latter were informed of the significance of the situation and the vital interest of the U.S. in preserving the integrity and independence of Greece and Turkey. They fully agreed, legislation was prepared and Congress approved the Greek-Turkish Aid Program.

Subsequently it became apparent that in spite of some recovery in Western Europe the situation was deteriorating there to such an extent that all our hopes and plans for world peace and security would be of no avail unless we came to the assistance of Western Europe. As a result the European Recovery Program, the formation of the Western Union, and now the North Atlantic Treaty had come to pass.

I assured Mr. Sadak that in the President’s thinking and in mine the vital importance to the U.S. of the independence and integrity [Page 1650]of Turkey was in no way diminished as a result of these developments. The President’s speech of March 1947,9 his subsequent statement on the occasion of Turkish Independence Day in October 194810 and my two statements11 in which Turkey was specifically mentioned in connection with the signing of the North Atlantic Pact should assist him to explain to the Turkish public that such was the case. I had discussed this problem a dozen to twenty times with the President and knew that in his thinking the importance to the U.S. of the independence and integrity of Turkey was in no wise diminished as a result of these developments in Western Europe.

Mr. Sadak thanked me for these assurances. He said he was keenly aware of the very heavy burdens I was carrying and did not wish to add to them. He still, however, was troubled as to what explanation he could give to the Turkish Assembly and the Turkish public. Two years ago Turkey had stood in the very forefront of U.S. preoccupations as regards security questions. Recently, however, the U.S. had transferred its interests to the West European countries, and had now gone further in guaranteeing their security than it had in the case of Turkey. As regards the West European countries, the U.S. was pledged to come immediately to their aid if they were attacked; no such pledge existed as regards Turkey. If there were any consistency or logic in international relations, then it would seem that Turkey, the first object of U.S. solicitude in security matters, would have been the first to be given the protective cover of a guarantee. But this had not proved to be the case. If, as I had stated, the U.S. position toward Turkey had not changed, why had it been impossible for this Government to extend the Atlantic Pact to include Turkey, or for my government at least to consider the extension of a similar guarantee to an Eastern Mediterranean Pact?12 Could he have the assurance that [Page 1651]in the event of aggression against his country Turkey would not be abandoned by this Government?

I told the Minister that there were in my opinion three factors which should help him to assure the Turkish people that the U.S. Government had not lost interest in them or changed its position toward Turkey. First, there was the series of statements by the President and myself already referred to beginning in 1946 at the time of the Soviet demands on the Turkish Straits up to those made in connection with the signing of the Atlantic Pact. Secondly, there was the important military assistance rendered the Turkish Government by the U.S. In a few days a new military assistance bill would be presented to Congress. From the hearings in Congress on this bill it would be made clear that a substantial amount of this assistance was intended for Turkey. This would give evidence of continuing U.S. interest in Turkey. Thirdly, in the President’s thinking the economic development of the Middle East, particularly of Greece, Turkey, Iran and the Arab States, complemented the European Recovery Program. U.S. assistance in this respect also would make evident U.S. interest in that region.

As for the invitation extended to Italy to become one of the North Atlantic Treaty countries, I pointed out that this had been done not merely to please that country or France, but was a logical development. France had argued that Italy has been the back door into France through which throughout history attacks had been made upon it. It was only after this back door had been closed through the decision to include Italy that France’s attitude had changed with reference to her own security problems and that it had been found possible to reach a settlement in Western Germany.

For the first three days of next week, I continued, I would probably be on the witness stand before the Congressional Committees as a witness on the North Atlantic Treaty. The attitude of the Committees toward witnesses on an important foreign policy matter of this kind was often not unlike that a prosecutor to a witness in a jury trial in a moral turpitude case. I would face cameras, microphones and the bright lights of television. It was very important in the cross-examination to which I would be subjected that I should be completely frank in explaining whether in fact any further commitments were in contemplation by the U.S. Government at this time. It was important to avoid delays or difficulties which might arise in the consideration by the Senate of the Pact.

Moreover, it was not the President’s feeling that with the ratification of the Atlantic Pact the implementation of our policy toward Europe and the Near East would be completed. Rather the U.S. would continue to study with close attention such further steps which might [Page 1652]be taken to strengthen international security. I hoped, therefore, that the explanation which I had given him would make it possible for Mr. Sadak to assure the Turkish Parliament and public of the fact that the U.S. had not changed its position toward Turkey.

Mr. Sadak thanked me again but asked for his own private information if he was correct in assuming first, that the U.S. had not changed its position with regard to the importance of supporting the integrity and independence of Turkey, and that if Turkey were the subject of aggression the U.S. would be by its side. Secondly, he asked, would the U.S. continue its study of further steps on behalf of international security, such as the extension of the Atlantic Pact, or alternatively the possibility of supporting an Eastern Mediterranean group, and was there therefore a possibility that Turkey might be brought in some such way into a contractual security arrangement with the U.S. in the near future?

To Mr. Sadak’s first question I said that to the best of my belief, and having in mind the background of relations between the two countries, he had accurately stated the situation. Obviously, however, I could not undertake any commitment on behalf of the U.S. Government. I was sure that Mr. Sadak appreciated the constitutional processes of this country. With reference to his second question I said that developments would presumably depend on events. If Soviet pressure on Germany, for instance, should be redirected in some other direction, then it would be quite possible that the U.S. might find it necessary to review the possibility of taking some steps in that direction. On the other hand, it was not impossible that the Soviet Government might turn to strengthening its position in the satellite countries, and this might lead us to examine other possible steps.

Mr. Sadak asked if I could say, simply to guide him in his own thinking, whether I thought that a further step might be taken in a relatively short time, say within a year, which might lead to bringing Turkey into some contractual security arrangement with the U.S. I said that in all frankness I thought there was little likelihood of this. We must make progress slowly and prudently in this field of international security arrangements. In any case, however, the whole situation would be under constant study and review by the Department.

Furthermore I felt that it was unwise and dangerous, and I was sure Mr. Sadak would agree with me, to attempt to give unduly optimistic or encouraging indications to others merely out of a desire to be polite. One of the most marked characteristics of President Truman was that once his word was given there was no going back on it; it was therefore doubly important to be prudent and sure of our ground before undertaking to give assurances.

[Page 1653]

Mr. Sadak thanked me for this frank explanation of our position. He felt that our exchange of views had been most helpful, and ventured the opinion that on his return to Turkey he “might” be able to render a “fairly optimistic” report.13

Before parting Mr. Sadak said that he would also like to discuss certain economic problems of importance to Turkey, but that he did not feel that he should burden me with them. He asked to whom I could recommend him. I suggested that he discuss these problems with Assistant Secretary Thorp14 and Mr. Satterthwaite and assured him that the necessary arrangements would be made.

During this interview, which lasted one hour and a half, Mr. Sadak spoke in French and Ambassador Wilson served as interpreter.

  1. This lot is a comprehensive chronological collection of the Secretary of State’s memoranda and memoranda of conversation for the years 1947–1953, as maintained by the Executive Secretariat of the Department of State.
  2. The full text of this memorandum of conversation was transmitted in a circular airgram of April 21 to 21 missions in Europe and the Middle East (711.67/4–2149). The source text is not signed. The memorandum was drafted by Joseph C. Satterthwaite, Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, and Edwin C. Wilson, member of the Policy Planning Staff.
  3. Foreign Minister Sadak, who was the first Turkish Foreign Minister to visit the United States, traveled to New York in early April for the opening of the Second Part of the Third Session of the United Nations General Assembly (April 5–May 18). He visited Washington from April 12 to 15. Regarding his subsequent call on President Truman on April 13, see footnote 1 to the letter from Inönü to Truman, March 31, p. 1646.
  4. Edwin C. Wilson, member of the Policy Planning Staff, previously served as Ambassador in Turkey from 1945 to 1948.
  5. For documentation on the negotiation of the North Atlantic Treaty, signed in Washington on April 4, see vol. iv, pp. 1 ff. This documentation includes many discussions and exchanges during February, March, and April regarding the possible inclusion of Turkey in the alliance.
  6. For documentation on the initiation of United States military and economic assistance to Greece and Turkey in 1947 (the Truman Doctrine), see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, pp. 1 ff.
  7. Regarding the conversations and memoranda under reference in this paragraph, see telegram 839, November 26, 1948, and despatch 483, December 23, 1948, both from Ankara, Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. iii, pp. 294 and 332.
  8. For documentation on the attitude of the United States towards the demands of the Soviet Union for the revision of the Turkish Straits regime and other matters affecting Turkish-Soviet relations in 1946, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. vii, pp. 801 ff. The final reference in this paragraph is, of course, to the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945.
  9. The reference here is to the address of President Truman before Congress on March 12, 1947, regarding recommendations on military and economic assistance to Greece and Turkey. For the text, see Department of State Bulletin, Supplement of May 4, 1947, p. 829, or Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1947 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1963), p. 176.
  10. For the text of President Truman’s statement on the National Holiday of Turkey, October 29, 1948, see ibid., 1948 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1964), pp. 915–916.
  11. The references here are presumably to the Secretary of State’s radio address of March 18 on the meaning of the North Atlantic Pact (Department of State Bulletin, March 27, 1949, pp. 384–388) and his statement to the press regarding U.S. interest in the security of areas outside the North Atlantic Community, issued to the press on March 23 (ibid., April 3, 1949, p. 428).
  12. During a conversation with Ambassador Erkin on February 17, regarding Turkish interest in a proposed American declaration on security interests in Greece, Turkey, and Iran and the eventual creation of a Mediterranean Pact, Secretary of State Acheson explained that the United States could not currently give consideration to such regional security groupings. For text of the memorandum of this conversation, see vol. iv, p. 117.
  13. A memorandum of conversation by Carlisle H. Humelsine, Director of the Executive Secretariat, April 15, 1949, summarizing the Secretary of State’s daily staff meeting of that date, includes the following item on the Secretary’s meeting with Foreign Minister Sadak:

    “In connection with the above discussion [on budget requests], the Secretary reported on his meeting with the Foreign Minister of Turkey. He told how discouraged the Foreign Minister was at the beginning of their conversation and of the various matters that he covered with the Foreign Minister. The Secretary made the point that at the end of the conversation he felt that the Turkish Foreign Minister was relieved and satisfied that the United States was deeply interested in Turkey and was not using the country merely as a means to an end. He said that one of the most difficult questions that the Turkish Minister had put to him was the obvious one to the effect, ‘Will the United States fight if the Russians attack Turkey?’ In answering this, the Secretary made the point that this was a decision that was largely in the hands of the President and that he must realize that it was very difficult to give a direct answer to this type of inquiry but that he, the Secretary, wanted to point out two of the most important characteristics of President Truman: (1) that he never went back on a friend, and (2) that Mr. Truman never overpromised. The Secretary said he thought that this made quite an impression on the Turkish Foreign Minister. It was decided that very careful attention would have to be paid to the problem of Turkey in all our discussions.” (Secretary’s Daily Meetings, Lot 58 D 609, Secretary’s Staff Meetings) This lot is a chronological collection of the records of the Secretary of State’s daily meetings with top Department of State officials for the years 1949–1952, as maintained by the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State.

  14. Willard L. Thorp, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. Regarding Foreign Minister Sadak’s meeting with Thorp on April 13, see telegram 132 to Ankara, infra.