Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy United States Representative at the United Nations (Gross) to the Secretary of State

top secret

Subject: Views of Chauvel on Atomic Energy Control

On Saturday, March 4, Ambassador Chauvel on his initiative, brought up this subject for the second time in two days. He said he had heard I was going to Washington on Monday1 and wanted to give [Page 57] me certain views before I left. He said he was “speaking personally”, adding that on his recent trip to Paris he had discussed this matter with Parodi2 and the Foreign Minister.3

Chauvel did not consider the present situation “satisfactory” from the point of view of the western powers. He was not sure they had a thorough understanding of each other’s position.

Chauvel said French public opinion had not formerly been much disturbed by the atom bomb question. However, the hydrogen bomb announcement and, in particular, Einstein’s recent statement,4 had created great nervousness in France. The effect had been intensified by Churchill’s statements prior to the British election.5

Chauvel felt that it was now necessary to consider most carefully the “political aspect of the problem”, without at the same time losing sight of the scientific realities. He remarked that the French, as well as the British and Canadians, had “followed the American lead”, and that this had been, and remained, necessary because only the Americans had all the information required for decisions. I asked him to illustrate what he meant. Chauvel replied that, for example, he did not really know what was involved in the application of the “stages principle”. Chauvel said that he had learned, in what he described as “side conversations” with Hickerson and Osborn, that under the UN Plan “stages of disclosure would take about two years”. This had not come up in meetings of the Sponsoring Powers.

Chauvel said he wished me to understand he was not being at all critical, because he realized the requirement of secrecy, but this created certain problems which were now taking on great importance. The French would, of course, continue to follow the lead of the US. But they would wish to know the “political analysis” from which we were proceeding.

For this purpose, it seemed to Chauvel desirable that we speak with him, the British and the Canadians, as soon and as frankly as possible. Chauvel would hold any such talks in the strictest confidence, reporting only by personal letters to Parodi and Schuman. Chauvel added, almost as an after-thought, “and of course Bidault6 would be kept informed”.

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I said I wished to be quite sure I understood what he meant by “political analysis”. He replied that he had in mind our discussing with him as frankly as possible our present thinking on such questions as the following: Were we convinced that no basis existed for opening up discussions with the Soviet Union and that no substantial modifications could be considered in the majority plan? What importance did we attach to the present public agitation? What did we consider the essential principles to which any effective plan must conform? Did we have any views as to procedures and next steps?

Chauvel thought it would be very valuable for the Sponsoring Powers (other than Soviet Union) to meet as soon as convenient to discuss these matters. He said he feared that there was not at the present moment “a sufficiently profound understanding” on the part of himself (he started to say “my government”) as to the indispensable conditions of a control plan. He referred again to his lack of understanding concerning the working of the stages formula.

Chauvel concluded by saying he did not see much value in the suggestion of Senator McMahon that the Council of the Atlantic Pact discuss atomic energy controls at a meeting this spring.7 However, if there were to be a meeting of the Council anyway, it would be convenient for the Foreign Ministers of US, UK, France and Canada to talk over the problem.

In this connection, Chauvel again mentioned Churchill’s suggestion for Three Power talks. Chauvel referred to the position Bidault took at the time of the Potsdam Conference,8 saying that Bidault would be consistent and object to discussions with the Soviet in which France did not participate. In any event, Chauvel hoped it would be possible for him to learn more concerning our thinking very soon, either in New York or in Washington. He was anxious to see me again when I returned from Washington.

I said I was certain a great deal of thought was being given to the whole problem in Washington. I said I was equally sure the Department would be completely frank in clarifying its views concerning any questions the French Government might wish to raise on this matter.

  1. March 6.
  2. Alexandre Parodi, Secretary-General of the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Dr. Robert Schuman.
  4. Speaking at a television forum on February 11, Dr. Albert Einstein, discoverer and exponent of the theory of relativity and pioneer nuclear physicist, stated that should man succeed in making the hydrogen bomb, radioactive poisoning of the atmosphere would become a possibility. See also Dr. Albert Einstein, “Arms Can Bring No Security,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 1950, p. 71.
  5. Reference is to the British Parliamentary elections held on February 13, 1950, in which the Conservative Party led by former Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill sharply reduced the Labour Party majority.
  6. Georges Bidault, Premier of France.
  7. In a Senate speech of March 1, Senator McMahon suggested a conference of Atlantic Pact nations to draft a new Western position on control of atomic energy. The new proposals would be presented to a special session of the United Nations General Assembly in Moscow.
  8. Bidault was French Foreign Minister at the time of the Potsdam Conference (July 1945), in which France was not invited to participate. For documentation on the conference, including information on the French position with respect to it, see Foreign Relations, The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), 1945, two volumes (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1960).