Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

top secret

Memorandum of Conversation Held May 16, 1950 at Mr. Bevin’s Apartment, No.1 Carlton Gardens, London1

At Mr. Bevin’s request I met at his apartment at Carlton Gardens with him, Mr. Attlee,2 Mr. L. B. Pearson.3 There were also present Sir Roger Makins, Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker,4 and one other person whom Mr. Pearson was supposed to know.5

Neither Mr. Pearson nor I knew that any officials were to be present. Mr. Pearson had not been told the subject of the meeting. I had been told that it was to review the present status of our atomic discussions.

Mr. Attlee, speaking from some papers given him by Sir Roger Makins, stated that the British Government was placed in a difficult [Page 560] position arising from the fact that the discussions which had been taking place on the future collaboration between the two Governments had had to be halted by the Fuchs affair. He did not doubt that the interruption was necessary. However, it now seemed to the British Government that it was unlikely that any conclusion could be reached in the discussions, by which he meant that no agreement could come out of them for a period of approximately one year. During that time the British Government would either have to keep its program in suspension or go forward with it in a way which might produce difficulties between us (he referred specifically to building the third pile), and he feared that public opinion would force the Government to proceed with it In the absence of an agreement. He asked me whether I saw any way of resolving this difficulty, by speeding up the prospective time table.

I said that I could not make any helpful suggestion. It seemed to me quite unwise to resume the discussions during the remaining few months of the Congressional session, since the fact that discussions were going on always got into the newspapers and the pre-election atmosphere was sure to make the whole situation more difficult.

I said that Sir Oliver Franks had recently laid before us a British proposal that we should consult together with the object of bringing our security regulations into harmony.6 The American side of the Combined Policy Committee had considered it and thought well of the proposal, and I thought that in all probability action could be taken along this line. If a successful conclusion was reached in these discussions, we could then consider what the next step would be. I said that I had not had an opportunity to discuss with the Secretary of Defense or the Acting Chairman of the AEC what should be done after these discussions, but I ought to be able to do so in due course.

Mr. Bevin asked whether we were clear in our minds that Congressional action was necessary for full collaboration. I said that we were clear about this and that this was not simply a matter which rested in the opinions of Cabinet officers. If at some time in the future a decision was reached to have full collaboration, you could not as a practical matter go forward so long as the individuals who would be involved in it were subject to the possibility of grave violations of the law.

Mr. Attlee observed that it was the McMahon Act which had caused a breakdown in a program which had been discussed with President Truman. I said that this was so, but that it was not a matter within the control of the President.

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Sir Roger Makins then said that the British Government would for the present at least proceed domestically within the program which it had declared to us in an endeavor not to create more problems which would make future negotiations more difficult. He said that in doing this the British Government might ask us for export licenses for certain materials which were not forbidden under the law but which involved the exercise of discretion. He hoped that, if and when such applications were made, they would be sympathetically considered, since their refusal would cause misunderstanding and difficulty. I said that I did not know what he had in mind but that any request which he made would receive careful and sympathetic consideration, because we also were desirous of avoiding any action which might prejudice future discussions.

I suggested to Mr. Attlee that both in the discussions regarding security measures and in any approaches which the British Government might make to us in Washington on this whole subject the matter should be conducted as far as possible through the regular Embassy staff, pointing out that the presence in Washington of such well known officials as Sir Roger Makins, with their known connection with this subject, always gave rise to embarrassing speculation in the Press. Mr. Attlee and Mr. Bevin agreed that this was most desirable.

Mr. Pearson took no part in the foregoing discussion. At its close he raised the question of proceeding informally with the talks among the sponsoring powers in the United Nations on atomic energy.7 He suggested this, he said, not with any idea that any substantive progress would be made, but because the so-called Vishinsky proposals of last fall were being used by Communist propaganda to make it appear that the Russians were willing to move toward international control, and that the Western Powers were blocking it.8 He knew that this was not the case, and that the real block came from the Russians’ [Page 562] refusal to discuss the matter with a Nationalist Chinese on the group. Mr. Pearson said that it would be most desirable to find a way of removing this difficulty, because he thought it important to smoke out, in his phrase, the Vishinsky proposal and demonstrate that there was nothing in it. He said that the Chinese representative never contributed anything to the discussions, never should have been on the group, and Mr. Pearson wondered whether there was not some way of meeting—or suggesting that we meet—informally without him, and put upon the Russians the burden of refusing. I said that this was an interesting suggestion and that we would give it very careful thought.

Mr. Attlee ended the meeting by saying that he thought we could not carry the discussion further at this time.

  1. Secretary Acheson was in London for a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, May 15–18. While in London, he also engaged in separate tripartite meetings with British Foreign Secretary Bevin and French Foreign Minister Schuman.
  2. Clement R. Attlee, British Prime Minister.
  3. Lester B. Pearson, Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs.
  4. British Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.
  5. The phrase “one other person whom Mr. Pearson was supposed to know” is a handwritten addition on the source text.
  6. The British proposal is printed as Annex E to the record of the meeting of the American Members of the Combined Policy Committee, April 25, p. 557.
  7. For documentation on this subject, see pp. 1 ff.
  8. Reference is presumably to the draft resolution “Condemnation of the preparations for a new war, and conclusion of a five-power pact for the strengthening of peace,” introduced by Andrei Y. Vyshinsky, Soviet Foreign Minister, at the Fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly. The Soviet proposal provided. Inter alia, for the unconditional prohibition of atomic Weapons and for appropriate international control. For text, see telegram Delga 16 from New York, September 23, 1949, Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. ii, p. 88. For additional information on Soviet positions at the General Assembly in 1949, see ibid., vol. i, pp. 1 ff.

    Pearson had previously informed United States officials of his concern respecting the Soviet General Assembly proposals of 1949; in this regard, see memorandum of conversation by Philip C. Jessup, Ambassador at Large, April 3, p. 60.