The Secretary of State to Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt


Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Thank you for your letter of February 10 which deals with a problem to which I and my associates in the Department are giving the most intense and earnest consideration. We are acutely aware of the widespread apprehension created by the uncontrolled development of increasingly powerful atomic weapons and of the need for exploring whatever means offer the slightest prospect of reaching international agreement for effective control of these weapons. The despatch of a special representative of the President [Page 55] to Moscow is one of the courses of action which we have constantly been examining; I hope I can make clear to you why I have not felt that I could conscientiously recommend it to the President at this time.

Should a representative of the President undertake discussions with Soviet Government officials on the subject of atomic energy without reasonable assurance that the conversations could lead to an improvement in the present situation, and there has been no indication that such conditions now exist, the probability is that he could return from Moscow with no more than the meager report that the Soviet Government had listened politely and promised to consider his views. The effect of such an outcome of the discussions on the morale of the peoples of the world can easily be imagined. Of even graver import is the fact that such disillusionment would strengthen the hands of those who see in a resort to arms the only solution of the dilemma which confronts us.

We must also bear in mind the legitimate interest of other countries in the whole question of assuring world peace. Bilateral conversations between the United States and Soviet Governments on multilateral issues could be expected to give rise to speculation and rumors leading to suspicion and mistrust and the possible disruption of the harmony and cooperation already attained through the peaceful means of the Rio Treaty, Atlantic Pact, Economic Recovery Program, and similar undertakings.

Perhaps even more important is the relationship of the United Nations to this problem of controls. I am sure you will agree that no action should be undertaken by the Government, the effect of which would be to depreciate the authority and standing of that organization.

The permanent members of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission were requested by the General Assembly resolution to “continue their consultations, to explore all possible avenues and examine all concrete suggestions with a view to determining whether they might lead to an agreement securing the basic objectives of the General Assembly in this question, and to keep the Atomic Energy Commission and the General Assembly informed of their progress”. Our representatives have more than once expressed the readiness of the United States Government to examine sincerely and earnestly any new proposals which may be put forward in amendment of the plan of control of atomic energy, approved by an overwhelming majority of the General Assembly, in order to reach an effective agreement to control atomic energy and to eliminate atomic weapons.

I find it difficult to believe that the Soviet Government is not aware of the potential danger of uncontrolled development of atomic energy. Certainly every effort has been made by the President and spokesmen for the Government to emphasize the seriousness of the problem and [Page 56] the desire of the American people and their Government to attain a solution. Notwithstanding, the Soviet representative interrupted and walked out of the important consultations of the permanent members of the Atomic Energy Commission for wholly irrelevant purposes connected with the Chinese representation on the Commission. These consultations are therefore temporarily at a standstill but we hope they will be renewed.

This Government will continue to stand ready to give full and sincere consideration to any proposal which will lead toward effective agreement to control atomic energy, and will welcome any indication that the Soviet Government is prepared to cooperate in such an endeavor through the established mechanism of the United Nations. We are convinced that agreement on this great issue is both vitally necessary and technically feasible and are prepared to negotiate sincerely and earnestly tomorrow or any day thereafter. We can succeed only if the Soviet Union is willing to do the same. I think this is the central issue. The Soviet Union has had and still has many avenues before it for a demonstration of its willingness to work with us toward a real, effective solution. There has unfortunately been no indication that such a willingness exists. Without any evidence of that nature I am forced to the conclusion that a special mission to Moscow would be fruitless and indeed harmful. The dangers of such an approach, as I have outlined them, seem to me to outweigh other considerations. This does not mean that a direct approach may not be advisable at a later date, but I believe we must stand firm on our present position for the time being.

I have discussed this matter with you at some length in confidence because I think it is important for you to know what we are thinking. I want you to feel free to write me further at any time on this or related issues on which you share our common concern.

With warm regards.

Sincerely yours,

Dean Acheson