Memorandum of Conversation, by the Ambassador at Large ( Jessup )

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Participants: Sir Oliver Franks (British Ambassador)
Ambassador Philip C. Jessup

I called on Sir Oliver Franks at six o’clock last evening and told him that I should like to talk with him very informally in order to give him some of our thinking on the ways in which we should prepare to get things lined up for talks with the Soviets in case they accepted the tripartite position. I then outlined the appropriate parts of the memorandum of December 23rd entitled “Exploratory Talks with the Soviets” which was approved by the Secretary yesterday.

Sir Oliver then proceeded to discuss the situation and indicated very general agreement with our approach. On the question of tactics in arguing with the Soviets, he said he assumed one should never put a proposition to them on the ground that it was fair or reasonable or moral since they do not talk to each other that way and these considerations do not affect their decisions. It seemed to him that their method of discussion is like that the Byzantine Scholiasts who argued entirely from glosses on a text, never varying the text but going on from gloss to gloss. Similarly, the Soviets never admit they have changed their basic position but merely proceed to argue that their current view is consistent with that which they have always maintained. He thought we should be able to force them into reinterpretations and explanations which might be to our advantage. He agreed that we always had the problem of facing public pressure for results but thought this might be taken care of through appropriate public information programs. In his opinion the Ministers, if a CFM is held, would have to be prepared to sit through as much as three months of meetings. The public pressure might be intense for the first week or two but might gradually subside as they got accustomed to the idea that the talks were going on and on. He thought it would be important in preliminary conversations with the French and ourselves to rehearse the tactics which would be used in discussions with the Soviets.

He then went on to comment on some of the basic difficulties of the international situation pointing out that we were dealing with a revolutionary government which was still in the early stages of the revolution. It was so far only about thirty years old and probably would have a hundred years in which to run its full course. As a revolutionary government, it is ready to take advantage of a condition of struggle and is able to exploit such condition. We on the contrary consider this condition an undesirable one and seek to terminate it. He does not believe that they are prepared to begin a war at this [Page 926] time since, if they were planning to launch a war tomorrow, one could not see why they had not launched it yesterday. In spite of their situation with a condition of struggle, they might feel that the temperature was now going up too fast and they might feel it was useful to do something to reduce it. When one came to consider the possibility of any tangible settlements, one could see in the situation a possibility of their agreeing on some relatively minor points but not on a point of prime importance. The point of prime importance is Germany. Neither we nor they would be prepared to give up the struggle for the German soul. He had toyed with the idea of an arrangement whereby the Russian armies would not only get out of Germany but would withdraw behind the Pripet Marshes. Certainly the withdrawal of the Russian armies from the heart of Europe would create a great feeling of relief in Western Europe. He assumed that in such circumstances we would have to take our troops also out of Germany but he did not elaborate where they might be stationed. He considers both the German and Japanese situations to be ones in which it may take fifty years to build up again conditions which were destroyed by the war and which had themselves been fifty years in the building. Aside from the question of the ties which may exist between Peiping and Moscow, nationalism in China and throughout Asia will be an additional problem which will confront us for a very long period of time. He agreed with the statement I made that we do not need to consider ourselves as being in a position of complete weakness and that in any case so far as our posture in dealing with the Russians is concerned we must assume that we have elements of strength in this long struggle.

Sir Oliver said that he would like to write a letter to Mr. Bevin in which he would refer to our talk and express his own views. He asked whether I could send him a paper which would embody the thoughts which I had expressed. He would not expect to transmit this paper but would treat it merely as for his personal use and in writing to Mr. Bevin would merely refer to impressions which he got from our conversation. I told him I would be glad to send him such a paper.

Sir Oliver indicated that he did not expect to be designated to take any part in the negotiations with the Russians.

Phillip C. Jessup