663.001/2–150: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Bruce) to the Secretary of State

top secret

500. Eyes only for the Secretary from the Ambassador and Bohlen. We had lunch alone with Gruber today and took up with him the points outlined in Department’s 403 of January 30.1

After considerable preliminary conversation on the status of the treaty negotiations in London and his estimate of the Soviet intentions in this respect which will be discussed in subsequent part of this cable, we told Gruber that there was concern in Washington at the persistent rumors from a variety of sources and places that the Soviet Government had made an approach to the Austrian Government for bilateral negotiations on some of the principal points in the Austrian treaty; that these reports had been so persistent that we wished to take advantage of this luncheon in order to ask him if he could tell us frankly whether there was any foundation whatsoever to these reports. Gruber [Page 444] categorically and repeatedly denied that there had been any Soviet approach. He stated that he had so informed Erhardt last Sunday2 and had shown him in confirmation thereof the text of Bischoff’s reports to the Austrian Foreign Office on any conversations which he had recently held with Soviet officials. He implied that Erhardt had been convinced by these cables that there was nothing in these reports. He said not only was there no truth in these reports, but should in the future the Russians attempt any such maneuver he would immediately consult with the three Western Powers and repeatedly stated that the Austrian Government could not contemplate any arrangement with the Soviet Government which did not have the full approval of the Department of State.

In order to probe further we asked Gruber if we had his authorization to report his statements to Washington as official to which he replied that we had his full authorization to inform the American Government that there had been no Soviet approach whatsoever for any bilateral negotiations and that the only subject under discussion with the Russians concerned 48 bis of the draft treaty which the Austrian Government had been urged by the Department of State to undertake bilaterally with the Soviet Government.

We told Gruber that we would indeed report his categoric assurances to the US Government and emphasized to him that not only would any side agreement on any phase of the draft treaty apart from 48 bis in our view gravely imperil the prospects of the maintenance of Austrian independence but that should at any time in the future the mere fact of negotiations to that end become apparent the effect in the US would be very damaging to Austrian interests. We told him that we thought some such Russian approach would be entirely consistent with present phase of Soviet diplomacy but that should it ever become known that Austria was disposed to enter into such discussions with the Russians, no matter with what purpose, the effect on the Administration and Congress of the US would be instantaneous and extremely adverse to the continuance of our present policy of assistance and protection to Austria.

Gruber developed at great length why in his opinion and that of the Austrian Government any such arrangements would be diametrically opposed to Austrian interests but added that he did not agree that any offer was likely to be forthcoming from the Soviet Government since in his view their tactics were always to ascertain first what the other fellow would offer before making any offers of their own. He characterized the source of the rumors of the Soviet approach as an invention of a “left wing American journalist” in Vienna and [Page 445] stated again that they were completely devoid of any foundation.

We of course were unable to go behind his categoric statements due to the necessity of protecting the source and confined ourselves to the reference to the persistence of these reports and their plausibility in the light of probable Soviet moves in the Austrian situation.

Gruber was strongly of the opinion that the Soviets were preparing some move in Europe and did not exclude the possibility of a military move since he said that since September the Soviet occupying forces had given every indication of their intention to stay on in Austria and had manifested an increased interest in matters of military installations, communications, etc. in eastern Austria. He felt Zarubin was under instructions to string the Austrian treaty on to some definite date in the fairly near future although he was unable to offer any evidence as to what particular date. He repeated the view which is well known to the Department that the Western Powers should by their action divest themselves of any suspicion that they were blocking the treaty and maneuver in the negotiations to place the blame squarely on the Soviet Union. He seemed therefore disposed to suggest that the Western Powers leave to bilateral negotiations Article 48 bis and 42 as stated in his memorandum to Schuman of January 24.3 He felt that the weakest point from the publicity point of view in Austria of the Western position was the insistence upon the UN and prewar debts which he said amounted to 500 million Austrian schillings on paper as against the Soviet claim in 48 bis for only 400 million. He said that one point upon which the West should not agree was the prohibition on military specialists to help train the Austrian Army.

We developed to the full with him the arguments against that action of progressive concessions when there seemed to be a common opinion that the Soviets do not at this time wish to conclude an acceptable Four-Power treaty which would leave Austria free and independent pointing out that the end result of any such course of action might logically be an Austrian settlement which would leave Austria helpless before subsequent Russian pressures.

Gruber was left in no doubt that the US Government would take a very serious view of any attempt to deal bilaterally with the Soviets on treaty or other issues affecting the future of Austria. It may therefore be that this conversation will cause him to consider very carefully what reply he should make to the Soviet approach. It may be that having committed himself to a flat denial in his conversation [Page 446] last Sunday with Erhardt that he felt it impossible to recede from that position. In any event, if further checking confirms our belief that the reports concerning the Soviet approach are authentic, we are obviously faced with a very serious problem in our dealings with Gruber.

In the absence of Schuman, Parodi4 has been informed in general terms set forth in Department’s 404, January 30,5 and of our intention to sound out Gruber and they as well as the British are apparently in accord with this attempt. Since they have asked that we let them know of Gruber’s response, at present time we merely intend to report Gruber’s categoric denial and our doubts without going further into the reasons for our belief in the accuracy of these reports.

The Department might wish to consider whether we should not inform the British and French without of course revealing the source why we believe these reports to be accurate since otherwise they may be inclined to accept at face value Gruber’s statements. We will of course take no further action with either the French or British here unless so instructed by the Department.

Sent Department 500, repeated London 164, Vienna 16; Department pass Moscow 33. Eyes only for the Ambassadors London, Vienna, Moscow.

  1. Not printed; in it Bruce was instructed that he and Bohlen should see Gruber and raise the question of the bilateral talks with the Soviet Union concerning Article 48 bis. If Gruber admitted that Austria had been approached by the Soviet Union, then “further discussion shld be based on extent his revelation these proposals.” If he denied such reports, Bohlen and Bruce were to inform him that they hoped this would continue to be the case since “any negotiation to that end would be regarded as extremely serious by US.” (663.001/1–3050)
  2. In telegram 165, January 31, from Vienna, not printed, Erhardt had reported that Gruber had discounted even the possibility of such a proposal by the Soviet Union. (663.001/1–3150)
  3. A summary of the aide-mémoire which Gruber left with Schuman on January 24 was transmitted in telegram 487 (Delau 416), January 27, from London, not printed (663.001/1–2750) and a full translation of it was sent as an enclosure to an unnumbered despatch from the United States Delegation for Austria on the same day (663.001/1–2750).
  4. Alexandre Parodi, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  5. Same as telegram 432, supra.