Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Merchant)


Subject: Memorandum of Conversation between Mr. Livingston T. Merchant and Mr. H. A. Graves, Counselor of the British Embassy.

Participants: Mr. Merchant and Mr. Graves

Mr. Graves came in to see me this morning at his request. At the outset he said that he was under urgent instruction from the Ambassador and Tedder, acting on a telegram from London, to obtain a general statement of the United States Government’s ultimate intentions with respect to Korea. He said that he realized that this was difficult but that the Cabinet was most anxious to give full support from the very outset to the central theme of U.S. policy with respect to Korea and that the Cabinet was meeting tomorrow morning to decide what Mr. Attlee should say on the debate in the Commons tomorrow afternoon on Korea. Mr. Graves emphasized that they did not wish to pry into military matters but were anxious to secure the broad picture including, I gathered, such points as our attitude on unification of North and South Korea as opposed to mere restoration of the status quo ante. I [Page 298]told Mr. Graves that we were naturally anxious to give them the benefit of our thinking and that I would take the matter up urgently with Mr. Rusk. (Immediately thereafter I spoke to Mr. Rusk and Mr. Jessup who agreed that the best and promptest method was to ask Sir Oliver Franks to come in today and discuss the subject with Mr. Rusk. Failing to get in touch with Mr. Satterthwaite1 or Mr. Jackson2 this was arranged for noon when the British Ambassador called on Mr. Rusk.)3

Secondly, Mr. Graves inquired what our views were regarding the technical implications of the President’s orders to blockade North Korea. Again, he said he was acting under instructions from London who for historical reasons were sensitive to the classic legal problems of a blockade. He asked specifically what our position was with respect to the granting of belligerent rights, whether a state of war was thereby considered to have been established, the status of prize courts, whether or not a contraband list would be issued and the question of effectiveness. I asked him what the UK views were on this matter and he indicated he was not yet in receipt of them. I told him that I thought this was a matter that lawyers would be arguing about for years, that the President’s action was taken in clear conformity to the Security Council resolution of June 25 and that I would see that our views on these and related aspects were collected and conveyed to him. (In a separate memorandum4 I have asked Mr. Johnson of NA to consult with L with a view to formulating our views on the blockade and communicating them to Mr. Graves.)

In the above connection Mr. Graves pointed out that the status of their relations with Peking coupled with the presumable participation of British naval units in the enforcement of the blockade posed certain problems which while now hypothetical might materialize into a difficult situation. I asked Mr. Graves what news they had from Peking which might indicate the effect on the Chinese communists in the matter of recognition of the events of the last ten days. He said to their surprise they have been getting no information at all out of their people in Peking.

I then asked Mr. Graves what reply if any he had had from London concerning our request that the British Government ask Shell to suspend all shipments of petroleum products to communist China. I said in this connection we had received with satisfaction a message from Rankin5 to the effect that a Shell tanker en route to Tientsin had been recalled by radio to Hong Kong. Mr. Graves said that the Embassy had [Page 299]had a reply from London which pointed out the minimal quantities of oil going through Shell to China. He added that the telegram neither said that London did or did not ask Shell to suspend the current shipments. The specific figures which he quoted (which incidentally emphasized that no aviation gas had gone to communist China) Mr. Graves stated would be given in detail to Mr. Freeman of CA.6 I told Mr. Graves that both Caltex and Stanvac had immediately and completely acceded to our request. I further asked him to emphasize strongly to London that it seemed the height of foolishness to permit any oil supplies to move into Mainland China during this period of uncertainty as to the Chinese communists’ reaction to the Korean situation. I said that, however insignificant the quantities involved, he could imagine for himself the effect on American public opinion and relations with the UK if Chinese communist troops appeared in battle against American troops in Korea and it could be said that they rode into battle on oil supplied by a British company. Mr. Graves did not attempt to reply but said he would emphasize this to London.

  1. Livingston Lord Satterthwaite, Deputy Director of the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs.
  2. Wayne G. Jackson, Officer in Charge of United Kingdom and Ireland Affairs.
  3. No record of the meeting between Ambassador Franks and Mr. Rusk has been found.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Karl L. Rankin, Consul General at Hong Kong.
  6. The figures given by Mr. Graves indicated that in the period January 1–May 31, 1950, the Shell Oil Company exported 25,000 tons of petroleum products to mainland China; for further documentation, see vol. vi, pp. 619 ff.