Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy United States Representative on the Security Council (Ross)


Subject: Resumption of Negotiations with the Soviet Union Through the United Nations

Lie called me out of the Security Council Chamber Friday afternoon1 to discuss the above question, as well as the question of Chinese representation in the United Nations on which I am reporting separately.2

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Lie said that three weeks ago he had felt that highest level discussions with the Russians were essential to break the impasse in relations with them, He has since noted with care statements made by the President and the Secretary, as well as by Attlee3 and Bevin, and he feels they are all right in taking the position that there should not be any separate negotiations with the Russians outside the United Nations but that if there were to be a resumption of discussions or negotiations they should take place through the United Nations.4

He said in effect he thought the President and the Secretary so far as the United States is concerned, and Attlee and Bevin so far as the United Kingdom is concerned, were committed to the resumption of negotiations with the Russians through the United Nations. In any event, he said he thought world public opinion and in particular public opinion in the United States and in Britain would compel such discussions. He mentioned the outcome of the British elections in this context and he ventured the opinion that the President would find it politically wise to back up such discussions.

With these thoughts in mind Lie said he was thinking; that a special meeting of the Security Council should be called under Article 28, Paragraph 2 of the Charter at which the Foreign Ministers would represent their governments. It would be better to hold such a meeting in Paris or Geneva rather than in New York. It would be held sometime between now and the fall session of the General Assembly and it would stay in session for perhaps a month or longer if necessary, and it would consider the complex problems involved in the reduction and regulation of armaments, the control of atomic energy and the hydrogen bomb, and the control of bacteriological weapons.

(Article 28, Paragraph 2 provides for the holding of periodic Security Council meetings at which its Members might “be represented by a member of the Government or by some other specially designated representative”.)

Lie said he had sounded out Malik and that while Malik had no instruction he seemed personally to favor Lie’s idea.

Lie said he hoped we would give most serious consideration to his idea and let him know our views. He said he would like to get Gross and me together with him and his “brain trusts” (Cordier, Feller, Foote, Gjesdal5) some evening next week and discuss this whole [Page 230] matter. He said he would like to have the Secretary of State and Dean Rusk know about his idea.

I said we were, of course, at his disposal. I said that Ambassador Austin was getting back from his Caribbean trip on Sunday and that we would wish to discuss this matter with him. Lie said he would, of course, want to know the Ambassador’s views.

I went on to say that Lie’s idea raised a number of questions in my mind. First, what would he hope might be accomplished by such a meeting of the Security Council? If there were no good reason to hope that something might be accomplished, would there be any point in having the meeting?

Second, would it be wise to consider such a move unless there was some reason to think the Russians would come to such a meeting with genuine willingness to seek agreement and intention to live up to any agreement that might be reached?

Third, such a meeting of the Security Council would be a very dramatic gesture which would capture public imagination. By definition would not such a dramatic gesture arouse hopes in the minds of people all over the world which might be false hopes? Was there not a most serious risk that if such a meeting were held and that if it should end in failure, people would interpret this failure as the utter collapse of the United Nations on the one hand, and, on the other hand, that there was no hope whatever of ever reaching agreement with the Russians on any basis?

Commenting on my questions, Lie stressed the essentiality of reaching agreement, saying there must be give as well as take on both sides, that the world could not go on with the Soviet Union and the United States holding fast to adamant positions. He emphasized, and I think sincerely, that he had no patience whatever with the Russians and their current policies, whether inside or outside the United Nations.

Commenting on the risk of failure of such a meeting of the Security Council, Lie said that failure of such a meeting would reflect a condition in the world which should not be hid from the people. He said very seriously that he would wish the people of the world to know the true state of affairs that would be represented by failure, even if this meant the risk of scrapping the United Nations and starting all over again to build a new organization.

I told Lie we would, of course, give his ideas the serious consideration they deserved and I asked him meanwhile to give his most careful consideration to such questions as those I had raised.

I had brief conversations separately with Feller and Cordier later in the afternoon. They said that immediately after his conversation with me Lie had called in his “brain trusts” and had discussed the above matter with them.

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Both Feller and Cordier seemed to have a somewhat more sober view than Lie himself. Feller thought Lie’s idea was basically a good one but that such a meeting of the Security Council would have to be very carefully prepared and no one should kid himself or anyone else along about what it might accomplish. Feller said it was clear we were in a situation where a long time was required to iron out the differences dividing the world. He thought it was essential, however, that discussions with the Soviet Union be resumed and preferably in the United Nations.

Cordier seemed to be rather more doubtful of the whole idea of a special Security Council meeting than Feller.

John C. Ross
  1. February 24.
  2. See memorandum of February 25, supra.
  3. Clement Attlee, British Prime Minister.
  4. For major public addresses and remarks made by President Truman and Secretary Acheson on February 22 and February 8, respectively, see Department of State Bulletin, March 6, 1950, pp. 347 ff. and ibid., February 20, 1950, pp. 273 ff.
  5. Respectively, Andrew W. Cordier, Executive Assistant to the Secretary-General; Abraham H. Feller, General Counsel and Director of the Legal Department of the United Nations Secretariat; Wilder Foote, Director of the Press and Publications Bureau, the Department of Public Information, United Nations Secretariat; and Tor Gjesdal, Principal Director of the Department of Public Information.