Secretary’s Memoranda: Lot 53 D 444: Box 419

Memorandum of Conversation by the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Hickerson)


Participants: The Secretary
Assistant Secretary Hickerson
Mr. Trygve Lie, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Mr. Byron Price, Assistant Secretary-General

On Wednesday, May 24, the United Nations Secretariat called Mr. Hickerson and asked for an appointment for Mr. Lie to see the President and the Secretary. At the Secretary’s request, Mr. Lie, accompanied by Assistant Secretary-General Byron Price, came in at 10:30 this morning. The Secretary later arranged for him to be received by the President at 12:45 today during the Secretary’s conference with the President.

Mr. Lie opened the conversation by saying he wished to inform us immediately and completely about his trip. He said that in Moscow, his reception had been “cold and correct”. He said that he spent approximately an hour and a half with Stalin. Molotov1 and Vishinsky2 were present. He said that all three of the Soviet officials had been well briefed. Stalin had before him a copy of Lie’s ten-point memorandum, which he had given to Washington, London, Paris and Moscow, and Stalin had what appeared to be notes in his own handwriting in the margin opposite each point.3

Mr. Lie said that he opened the conversation by stating that he wished to do everything he could through the United Nations to contribute to the lessening of the tension in the world, and that he had prepared his ten-point memorandum with that in view. With this start, he led into the subject of a possible special meeting of the Security Council. He pointed out that Presidents Roosevelt and Truman had traveled long distances to meet Mr. Stalin and that President Truman had recently said that Mr. Stalin would be welcome in Washington at any time. Lie continued that if a meeting were [Page 380] arranged, it would not have to be in Washington and mentioned Key West4 as a possibility. Alternatively, he said meetings might well be held in Switzerland or some other country in Europe.

Lie said that Stalin commented at once that a meeting was “not a burning point.” Stalin went on to say that in his opinion in advance of any such meeting there should be careful diplomatic preparation in order that positive results might be achieved. Stalin said to him the place of the meeting was not important and that he was interested in results.

Mr. Lie said that at this point Mr. Molotov made an attack on him and said that he was pretending to act as a mediator, but that he was really taking the American viewpoint. As an illustration of this, Molotov criticized the omission of China from Mr. Lie’s memorandum. Lie says that he replied at once that he was acting as the Secretary-General, of the United Nations to make such contribution as he could toward lessening tension and that he was not a mediator; he continued that he was not taking anybody’s point of view other than that of the Secretary-General in his memorandum and that he had no doubt that some of his statements would be criticized by the Americans as well as the Russians. Molotov, as an illustration of Lie taking the American point of view, referred to his comments on the restriction of the veto. Lie said that he inquired whether Molotov felt that this topic should be omitted from the memorandum, and Molotov agreed that he did not. Lie said he referred to the discussion going on in the Interim Committee on this subject and inquired whether the Russians really felt that it was a good idea for them not to be present at these discussions.5

At this point, Lie said the conversation shifted to atomic energy. Stalin said that what he wants is prohibition of atomic bombs—prohibition of their manufacture and use. Lie said that he commented that everybody wants prohibition, but that effective control is essential to an agreement. Lie mentioned the recent International Red Cross proposal, with which Stalin wasn’t familiar. Stalin commented that Lie’s memorandum “by-passed” important Soviet proposals in regard to reduction of conventional armaments. Mr. Lie said he replied that he had not endeavored to make his memorandum a complete account of everything that had happened in recent years but merely to suggest certain topics for further discussion. He said that the same applied to Mr. Molotov’s criticism of his comments on making forces [Page 381] available to the Security Council of Article 43, which was next mentioned. Lie said that Stalin expressed a keen interest in technical assistance. He said it should be done exclusively through the United Nations. Stalin also expressed keen interest in international trade. Mr. Lie said that on this point he asked Stalin why Russia didn’t join the ITO.6 Stalin said that it was a “good charter” and that the Soviet Union might accept it with a few changes to permit state trading. He said that U.S. discrimination against Eastern European trade must be ended.7 He said that Russia wants trade. Stalin continued that immediately on the end of hostilities Russia badly needed credit to repair the war damage but that since credits were not forthcoming, the damage had been largely repaired by Russia’s own efforts. Now, Stalin said, Russia needs trade—not credits.8

Lie said that he mentioned briefly in his discussion with Mr. Stalin the desirability of the Soviet Union joining the Specialized Agencies of the UN; in particular, he urged that the USSR rejoin WHO and that it join FAO, ILO, and UNESCO. Stalin said that he would take this suggestion under consideration.

Mr. Lie said that he discussed also with Stalin the return of Greek children to their families, the Austrian treaty and the possibility of elections in the entire city of Berlin, supervised by the United Nations. Stalin made no significant comments on any one of those subjects.

Mr. Lie said that in this point in the conversation, he inquired categorically whether it could be said that the Soviet Union would favor periodic meetings with the Security Council when the Chinese representation question is settled. Mr. Stalin replied that subject to the comments he had made earlier about preparation, the answer was yes. Mr. Lie then inquired whether his memorandum would be regarded by the Soviet Union as a suitable basis for the preparation of an agenda for such a meeting, it being understood that any of the interested countries was free to propose additional items or changes. Again he said the answer was yes.

Mr. Lie said that Mr. Stalin, who had come to his rescue when Molotov accused him of being pro-American, returned at this point of the conversation to the unhappy lot of the mediator. He said that [Page 382] any mediator was certain to be criticized by both sides, but that he should remember that the “middle way would win”.

Lie said that he, later discussed with Vishinsky the question of what he (Mr. Lie) would report to the United Nations in regard to his trip. Lie said that he explained that he felt himself under obligation to make some report to the members, and that if he did this he should report what each of the four countries had told him (with the risk of misunderstanding), or that as an alternative, he should make a report without quoting anybody. Vishinsky had replied that he had no preference in this matter, and Mr. Lie said he would have to consider this question further.

When he returned to Paris, Mr. Lie said he had conversations with Messrs. Sehuman9 and Bidault, and the French Government showed its willingness to agree with his two proposals; that is, there should be a special meeting of the Security Council when the Chinese representation question is settled, and that Mr. Lie’s memorandum may be taken as the basis for the preparation of the agenda.

Mr. Lie said that he went on to London and had a conversation with Bevin.10 Bevin informed Lie that the British Government will not agree to periodic meetings of the Security Council before a real change in the attitude of the Soviet Union occurs. Lie indicated that a conversation with Attlee convinced him that the British Government might be prepared to consider this question further.

Mr. Lie, at this point, said that he hoped that the Secretary would not tell him that we could not agree with the question of a special meeting of the Security Council, until there is a real (change in the Soviet attitude. He said that the question is not one for immediate decision, since such a meeting could not, in any event, take place until the Chinese representation question is settled. He urged that we not give him an answer now but that we merely tell him that we would consider this matter.

The Secretary told Mr. Lie that we would not say no at this time, but would consider the matter further. He asked Mr. Lie what he made of the Soviet attitude in regard to China and the Chinese representation question. Lie said that he was convinced from comments that had been made to him by several Soviet officials that the USSR had expected that the Chinese representation question would be settled within “a fortnight” after the Soviet walk-out in January. Lie said that the American White Paper11 and everything that had been said [Page 383] in this country about the failure of Chiang Kai-shek12 had convinced the Russians that we were then on the point of recognizing the Chinese communists and that they had felt the whole thing would be settled in a few weeks and they could take a bow for helping to get the Chinese communists into the Security Council. Lie expressed the opinion that the Soviet Government had made a serious miscalculation and could not now return to the Security Council until the Chinese communists were seated.

Mr. Lie said that nothing of consequence developed in a conversation with Wang, the Chinese Communist Ambassador in Moscow.13 Wang urged that the Nationalist Representatives be expelled from the Specialized Agencies and said that the Chinese Communist Government would take over Chinese representation in the Specialized Agencies from which the Nationalist Representatives had been expelled. Lie described Wang as “a cold fish, who speaks Russian better than he speaks Chinese.”

Mr. Lie said that the Soviet Foreign Office, in his opinion, acts “in a very correct manner” toward the satellites, leaving to the Cominform the task of applying pressure.

John D. Hickerson
  1. V. M. Molotov, Vice Chairman, Soviet Council of Ministers.
  2. Andrei Y. Vyshinsky, Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs.
  3. In his published account Mr. Lie states that he gave a copy of the memorandum to the Soviet Foreign Minister on May 12. Stalin, had an annotated copy in front of him when he was handed a copy by the Secretary-General on May 15.
  4. Key West, Florida, a vacation retreat of President Truman’s.
  5. At the bidding of the General Assembly the Interim Committee of the General Assembly had had the Security Council voting question under review since 1948. The Soviet Union did not recognize the existence of the Interim Committee and did not participate in its meetings or work in any way.
  6. A reference to the proposed International Trade Organization as projected at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment held at Habana, November 1947–March 1948 and in the draft Charter formulated by the conference; for documentation on this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, pp. 802 ff. Subsequent developments with respect to the ITO are scheduled for publication in volume i.
  7. Documentation on U.S. policy regarding East-West trade is scheduled for publication in volume iv.
  8. For documentation regarding U.S. loan policy at the end of World War II, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. i, pp. 1391 ff.
  9. Robert Sehuman, French Minister of Foreign Affairs.
  10. Ernest Bevin, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  11. Department of State Publication 3573, United States Relations With China (Washington, 1949).
  12. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, President of the Republic of China.
  13. Wang Chia-hsiang.