396.1/11–950: Telegram

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

top secret

2604. To Nitze1 from Bohlen. Due to delay in communication it was not possible for us to comment before action on Deptel 24302 in regard to handling of Soviet note on CFM. My personal comments are as follows:

1. There seems to be general agreement all around that we cannot provide the Soviets with the propaganda value of an outright rejection of principle of discussion and equally of the impossibility of accepting a four-power conference on narrow basis of Potsdam decision. The chief problem therefore seems to be on the basis of what agenda and under what conditions would we actually agree to a four power conference. I may be wrong, but I have the impression that Deptel 2430 reflects two divergent and even contradictory theses. One with which I am in complete accord is that the note is purely a propaganda maneuver designed to divide the West, to slow down and disrupt the present efforts towards increase of strength with obvious selection of German demilitarization because of present controversy regarding German contribution. On the other hand, parts of this Deptel suggest a procedure such as “exploratory conversations with [Page 907] Soviet representatives” and “careful preparation in less formal body” (presumably four-power) which appear to stem from some belief that “useful results” can be obtained, or, in other words, that there is some serious intention behind the Soviet move to work for some constructive result. I personally am convinced that there is no such intention because of the manner, if for no other reason, in which the Soviets have publicized their suggestion. Past experience has shown that they usually explore in secret if they have serious business in mind and use publicity when they are merely dealing in destructive propaganda.

2. I think we should be careful in our thinking (I am not speaking now of public presentation which is another matter) as to whether we regard this move as propaganda or based on a serious desire to negotiate. Our conclusion on this point will obviously dictate our strategy and tactics. To engage in a preparatory stage on four-power basis would certainly arouse greater expectations of some fruitful results from a CFM or at least the impression that the West expected some such result. Where preparatory work in my opinion is absolutely essential is between the three powers to insure that our positions on all possible subjects of discussion are carefully concerted in order to avoid any divisions which the Soviets could exploit for propaganda purposes. (In this I agree with British suggestion.)

I furthermore have some doubt as to the wisdom of attempting to generalize the agenda to include worldwide problems, particularly those relating to Asia. Any Asiatic question would seem to me to afford them an excellent sounding board in view of the complexity of almost any Asiatic problem, for example, in relation to the attitude of India, etc. Furthermore, we should not forget that if there is to be a CFM meeting, there is the problem of its terms of reference as laid down by the Potsdam Agreement which we have cited in our refusal to have CFM consideration of Japanese peace treaty to the exclusion of other Far Eastern countries.

The reference to soundings in UN, which I can only assume is based on the successful precedent of the Jessup–Malik conversations,3 does not seem to me to be applicable in this case.4 In the Jessup–Malik talks there was a specific issue, i.e., the lifting of the Berlin blockade whereas now we are speaking of a CFM meeting which would deal with major political problems long outstanding. It is extremely doubtful if any sounding at UN or elsewhere would produce any clearer indication of Soviet intentions than we already have from contents and manner of presentation of Soviet note.

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It seems to me that in circumstances we could either in our reply (which I agree should not be interim):

(1) Suggest an agenda or conditions which we would know in advance the Russians would refuse, for example, Schuman’s thought on Cominform;5 or (2) confine agenda to Germany and Austria with view to repeating propaganda success of 1949 CFM during actual discussions. I have a slight preference for the second although realizing that a discussion on Germany is not particularly desirable at this time but it should be borne in mind that Germany would be a subject on any agenda however large. The difficulty of the first alternative is that by adding subjects outside of the terms of reference of the CFM as agreed at Potsdam we would afford the Soviets the opportunity of charging a refusal of the CFM meeting by our attempt to introduce subjects not within its competence and which properly belong either at UN or elsewhere and involve interests of other countries.

While I do not think we should hurry to answer the Soviet note, too long a delay could afford them a propaganda advantage and might create impression of confusion and uncertainty. I cannot see that we have very much to fear from a meeting with any reasonable agenda if three powers stick together.

The foregoing are my personal views for such use as you may care to make of them.

Department pass Moscow: repeated information London 626, Frankfort for McCloy 276, Moscow 87. [Bohlen.]

  1. Paul H. Nitze, Director of the Policy Planning Staff.
  2. Same as telegram 2369, supra.
  3. For documentation on the Jessup–Malik talks in the spring of 1949, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. iii, pp. 694 ff.
  4. Next to this sentence in the source text was the handwritten notation “No”.
  5. In telegram 2581, November 8, from Paris, not printed, Bruce had reported Schuman’s feeling “that if there is to be a meeting, the agenda must be considerably broader and he personally feels should include such questions as Cominform activities and their relation to world peace and tranquility” (396.1/11–850).