Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. John Frick Root, Second Secretary of Embassy in the United Kingdom


Memorandum of Informal US–UK Discussions in Connection With the Visit to London of Mr. Donald D. Kennedy, Deputy Director, Office of South Asian Affairs 1

Tuesday Afternoon, February 6

Topic for Discussion: Items I–IV on the Agenda. Review of the current international position of the South Asia countries; Review of United States and United Kingdom objectives with respect to South Asia; Possible United States and/or United Kingdom action; Possible United States and/or United Kingdom action with respect to peripheral South Asian problems: Afghan-Pakistan dispute, Nepal, Tibet, French and Portuguese possessions on the subcontinent and Indian minorities in Ceylon.

  • Participants:
    • Foreign Office
      • R. H. Scott, Assistant Under-Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs
      • J. D. Murray, Head, South-East Asia Department
      • F. S. Tomlinson, Assistant Head, Far Eastern Department
      • P. H. Scott, South-East Asia Department
    • Commonwealth Relations Office
      • J. J. S. Garner, Deputy Under-Secretary of State
      • N. Pritchard, Assistant Under-Secretary of State
      • G. E. Crombie, Head, Western and United Nations Department
      • E. G. Norris, South Asian Department
    • U.S.A.
      • Donald D. Kennedy, Department of State
Joseph Palmer 2nd } American Embassy, London
John Frick Root
[Page 1654]

review of the current international position of the south asia countries

Mr. Kennedy said he believed that during Mr. McGhee’s talks2 in London it had been accepted that the UK and the Commonwealth should continue to have the major responsibility for seeking a solution to problems on the Indian subcontinent. It was Mr. Kennedy’s belief that the UK still recognized this major responsibility. The British representatives confirmed that this was so.

Mr. Kennedy said he would also like to be clear on a further point. The US assessment of the present situation in the area was that it called for positive action now. Did the UK also feel that the time had come for action? The British representatives replied in the affirmative.

Mr. Garner then referred to the observations on India he had made during the talks with Mr. McGhee last September in which he had stated his belief that Nehru3 and the Indian Government were gradually moving toward the side of the West. He believed this process had, in general, been continuing. Nehru had taken a leading role at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ meeting in January and it was significant that he had subscribed to the declaration4 at the conclusion of the conference including the references to rearmament and the individual responsibility of each country in meeting aggression. Nehru had gone out of his way to seek the assessment of the British Chiefs of Staff on the military position in Europe and Korea.

Within India, said Mr. Garner, Nehru seemed to be in a somewhat stronger position without Patel.5 Whether he would be more or less cautious in his policy, as Mr. Kennedy had asked, was anybody’s guess. Mr. Garner said he would have thought that Nehru would feel freer in his actions.

The British representatives agreed with Mr. Kennedy that the posture of India on main issues of the hour was very much the key to the position of all countries in South Asia. They also indicated agreement when Mr. Kennedy stated his belief that India’s posture was largely determined by its attitude toward four major factors: (1) anti-colonialism and anti-westernism; (2) nationalism; (3) the [Page 1655] problem of social and economic progress; and (4) the Sino-Russian Communist threat.

Mr. Scott said that at the Commonwealth Conference Nehru had produced the theory that the key to security in South Asia lay in weakness, that is, in disarmament rather than rearmament. Later Bajpai6 had told the British that “many of us” do not share these views and that he had reminded the Prime Minister there was such a thing as tempting Providence. Mr. Garner said that Nehru felt strongly that we must be most careful in our own actions to avoid provoking a war. This was his feeling toward the dangers of rearmament in Europe and Japan. Mr. Scott went on to explain that Mr. Nehru’s actual position on Japan, however, was that he objected to any defense provisions in a peace treaty. He personally preferred the disarmament of Japan as the wiser policy, but made it clear that he would have no objection to Japan, as a free and equal nation, making what defense arrangements it liked; the prerequisite was that its independence be established before hand.

The Foreign Office had had conflicting reports on Nehru’s talks with the French. While Ambassador Harvey7 in Paris had said that they were not successful; the British Embassy in New Delhi had reported that they were very satisfactory. Mr. Kennedy said that we had so far heard only from Paris, which had likewise given us the indication that the talks had been disappointing. Mr. Kennedy said that we had emphasized to the Indians both in Washington and New Delhi the degree to which the French had gone in granting independence to Indo-China. The British officials said they agreed with the US view, as expressed by Mr. Kennedy, that the French had indeed gone quite a way in this respect and about as far as could at the moment be expected. The real difficulty was that the French had failed to give adequate publicity to the measure of freedom which they had in fact advanced.

The consensus of the British officials was that India had become increasingly aware of the dangers, and indeed the direct threats, of international communism. Likewise, the other countries of the area were learning the peril of remaining to be picked off one by one. The UK felt, nevertheless, that we must exercise patience and moderation and that any attempt to force the process might land us in disaster. In connection with Mr. Kennedy’s reference to anti-westernism in India, Mr. Garner cited, as an illustration of the danger of this [Page 1656] development, the way in which President Truman’s statement on the atomic bomb8 had swept through Asia like wildfire.

Mr. Scott believed that Nehru was now looking on Communist China as communist first of all and had an increasing appreciation of the aggressive nature of international communism. What Nehru always emphasized was that he must live with China. At the Commonwealth Conference he had cited India’s 2,000 miles of frontier with China as the major factor with which India must reckon and he also put his view plainly on Burma by pointing out that no outside power could defend it. (Mr. Scott said he did not think, however, that this would be the view of the Indian army staff, which probably would consider the frontiers of Burma as the frontiers of India). Mr. Scott called attention to the fact that certain steps in Asia which we might view as favorable to our cause were sometimes viewed in India and other countries in the area as a return of undesirable Western or colonial influence and that this reaction worked against the development of the realization that Communist China was a threat to the whole of Asia. In answer to Mr. Kennedy’s question as to what India would do if there were Communist aggression against Burma, either through invasion or subversion, Mr. Scott replied that if this development happened soon, he would not expect India to intervene, but that if it happened at some later time, India might definitely move to prevent it. Time was an important factor in the building of strength and a sense of realism in the non-Communist countries of Asia. The Indonesian Ambassador9 touched this key in a recent remark when he said that what was required for his country was a “breathing space.”

On China itself, Mr. Scott thought that Britain and America were agreed in their basic analysis of China as an expansionist power and as a menace to Asia. Where there were points of difference between us was on tactics. Mr. Kennedy asked whether the British had any practical suggestions for fostering a closer alignment of South Asian countries with the West. Mr. Scott said that in the British view, it was, above all, imperative that the Kashmir dispute and other difficulties between India and Pakistan be settled. There was, in addition, the opportunity of encouraging cooperation on the economic [Page 1657] level. The UK attached great importance to the Colombo Plan10 as a means of stimulating, on the economic level, the sort of voluntary cooperation which would provide the surest foundation for regional strength. The UK considered it important in whatever we did that we avoid obvious dictation or interference and that we treat the countries in the area as equals.

Mr. Garner concurred with Mr. Scott’s remarks but thought it well to realize that an objective settlement of Kashmir might in itself represent a set-back to India’s relations with the West. (That is, India would hardly be pleased if most of Kashmir went to Pakistan).

Mr. Kennedy asked whether the British officials thought it would be helpful at this time to make a clear and perhaps more positive statement than any hitherto on the US and UK policy toward Asia. Could we, by such a statement, help to allay Asian suspicions over such issues as colonialism, the fear that a new type of imperialism was being fostered through economic aid, developments in Indo-China and US efforts with respect to Formosa? Neither Mr. Scott nor Mr. Garner thought this was an opportune time for any such statement. They felt that the currency of statements had become depreciated and that it would not be wise to manufacture any statement; rather, let it flow in time from the course of events.

Mr. Kennedy then asked whether a statement on our attitude towards agrarian reform had any place now. We realize, he said, that the Communists had a strong psychological weapon in the way they dealt with this issue and also that our aid to the area, without social and economic reform, might bring little benefit to those who really needed it. Until now we have, on the whole, remained silent about agrarian reform. Mr. Scott said that there would appear to be few subjects more important for us to consider. Mr. Murray suggested that the Colombo Plan might lead to some improvement in this respect. He noted, however, the difficulties in the way of reform. On the one hand, local customs were often a great hindrance; on the other, if we brought too much pressure to bear we ran the risk of being criticized for interference in internal matters. Mr. Olver also pointed out an additional problem in the case of countries where state and local governments might to a considerable extent depend for support on precisely those interests which would be hurt most by reform.

The remaining conversation about how we could deal with agrarian reform was largely inconclusive, but all agreed that it was of vital interest. Mr. Kennedy said that he had raised his question in the context [Page 1658] of his concern about what more we might be doing in the field of psychological warfare to meet the Communist threat.

Turning to Pakistan, the British officials pointed out that this country stood ready to cooperate and that it was particularly interested in the Middle East, whose defense it looked on as a matter of acute concern.11 At the time of the Commonwealth Conference, Liaquat12 had taken part in the talks on Middle East defense and while, to be sure, he had mostly listened and made no commitments, it was clear he was very much absorbed in the matter. (Mr. Garner said, however, in reply to Mr. Palmer’s question, that Pakistan would not participate in the talks among some of the Commonwealth countries in March on Middle East defense). The main barrier to gaining Pakistan’s cooperation was Kashmir. Until this question was out of the way, little more could be done to bring Pakistan into the Western alliance but, given a Kashmir settlement, Mr. Scott and Mr. Garner believed there was a real chance of obtaining a defense agreement with Pakistan. (This, of course, would then raise difficulties over the supply of arms Pakistan would undoubtedly want). They believed that the Commonwealth talks had had a beneficial effect on Pakistan’s attitude and discounted the importance of the incidents surrounding the delay in Liaquat’s departure from Karachi which, they said, largely revolved around the mechanics of consulting the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers about Liaquat’s desire to have Kashmir discussed in London.

The British officials did not think that the Afghan-Pakistan dispute by itself would be a serious obstacle to Pakistan’s participation in Middle East defense; without Indian support they believed the Afghan case would largely fall apart.

Mr. Garner next commented on the UK’s defense discussions with Ceylon. Basic agreement with Ceylon has been reached and only points of detail remain. The position of the Ceylon Government is that it is glad and even anxious for the UK to retain bases and the Ceylonese have already publicly stated that they would be on the Western side in the event of war. The defense agreement of 194713 in itself established a firm alliance with the United Kingdom. The point now under debate is how Ceylon is to fulfill its obligation to purchase bases for United Kingdom use. At present the UK is occupying bases in Ceylon through leases from private owners and is continuing to pay rent for these bases. The UK is now trying to persuade Ceylon to go ahead with the purchase of these bases and present them to the UK for use without charge. As could be expected, Ceylon is asking the highest [Page 1659] price for agreeing to this arrangement. What it wants is UK assistance in the development of Ceylonese armed forces; more specifically, it wants the UK to furnish necessary military equipment without cost. At the moment, the UK is unwilling to pay the price asked by Ceylon and therefore the issue is still open. Meanwhile, so long as no agreement can be reached, the UK still has the use of the bases but will have to go on paying rent for them.

Mr. Kennedy said that the US, at Ceylon’s request, had supplied it with information on certain small naval vessels and training aircraft which might be available for purchase. We had as yet received no reply from Ceylon indicating whether it intended to make the purchases. The prices of the US equipment were high and this factor may have discouraged further interest.

item ii. review of united states and united kingdom objectives with respect to south asia

In opening the discussion under Item II on the agenda, Mr. Kennedy outlined the general US objectives in South Asia. These were:

To encourage strong, enduring and friendly relations with the governments in the area;
To encourage the continuance in power of non-Communist governments;
To encourage among the countries of the area the development, individually and collectively, of strength capable of opposing communist expansion;
To encourage countries in the area to assume greater responsibility for the solution of Asian problems;
To encourage in the area the development of an attitude which would assist us and other friendly countries to obtain facilities we might desire and, by the same token, ensure that facilities are denied to the Soviet bloc; and
To encourage close economic ties which would ensure that we and other friendly countries have access to resources and markets in the area and that they are denied to the Soviet bloc.

Mr. Scott confirmed that the UN shared these general objectives. He thought, however, that the UK’s approach to the problem might be somewhat different from ours. The UK centered its attention on the achievement, first of all, of an improvement in Indo-Pakistani relations. It then looked forward to the building up of cooperation on a regional basis in South and Southeast Asia and was presently hoping to stimulate this sort of cooperation on the economic level. In this connection, efforts exerted by Asian countries under the Colombo Plan and other regional economic exercises were fully as important as the results. The development of cooperation was a process requiring time and the education that would stick best with the people [Page 1660] in the area was self-education. We in the West might prod them a little, but we should be careful not to go too far. The UK realized that in tackling the problem of regional cooperation from the economic angle first, it was following an apparently illogical pattern. It might seem to make more sense to start with defense first, build up a stable political situation next and then concentrate last of all on economic improvements. But circumstances in South and South-East Asia made the only practical approach at the present time an effort to get some degree of harmony in the economic sphere and to hope that from it political advantages would eventually flow. The UK appreciated that time might work against us, but there seemed no alternative.

Mr. Garner thought we should make clear that the objectives Mr. Kennedy had outlined were our ultimate, long-range aims. Mr. Kennedy agreed; they could be termed the desiderata of the situation. Mr. Kennedy thought that the UK might tend to emphasize stability per se more than we, but Mr. Scott said that what the UK meant was the stability of non-Communist governments established through popular support.

iii. possible united states and/or united kingdom action

Mr. Kennedy then went on to note that the status of India–Pakistan relations was becoming an increasing source of embarrassment for the US Government domestically and that it would be difficult to answer questions Congress might raise on this matter. Congress might ask why the US should spend money in an area which gave so little heed to impending destruction and doom. Officials in the Department of State themselves were increasingly concerned about what to do in the event that hostilities did break out between India and Pakistan or the Communists advanced into South-East Asia. This concern perhaps explained why the US seemed somewhat more inclined than the UK to press ahead.

Mr. Garner said that all evidence available to the UK suggested that India and Pakistan were not in fact on the verge of war and that the general situation in this respect was much better than last year at the time of the communal troubles. Relations between the armed forces lined up in Kashmir seemed to be good and it was certainly significant that they had remained in position for nearly three years without significant incident. There was now no indication of any aggressive moves. Mr. Kennedy found this assessment interesting; he said we would have been inclined to say that the situation in the subcontinent how was at a lower ebb than at any time since last March. Mr. Garner admitted that there might indeed have been some deterioration since the relieved situation following the settlement of the refugee issue; [Page 1661] but he repeated that the UK saw no signs suggesting that an outbreak was in any sense imminent.

In response to Mr. Kennedy’s inquiry whether some advantage might be realized in lumping together the various disputes between India and Pakistan and treating them as a single problem, Mr. Garner said he felt this would only complicate the problem. The UK had tended to concentrate on one problem at a time and believed this was still the most feasible approach. Our greatest handicap, of course, was that the will to reach a settlement was not there. Mr. Scott agreed and speculated on the various solutions which might suggest themselves. Theoretically, a little bloodshed might throw such a fight into the two governments that they would quickly come to terms, but this resort was so fraught with danger that we had no choice but to rule it out. Another possibility was arbitration, but here it was necessary to offer some inducement to the parties to submit to arbitration and there was little we could offer India, which already has pretty much what it wants.

Mr. Scott said that Nehru appeared to be shaken at the time of the Commonwealth Conference when Mr. Bevin14 took the opportunity to describe to him the danger of a pincer movement from Communist Russia on the West and from Communist China on the East aimed directly at India. Mr. Garner added that the paradox of Nehru, however, was that while he appeared to appreciate the significance of the Communist threat in Asia, it seemed to have little effect in the way of producing in him a sense of realism on Kashmir. (Mr. Scott remarked to Mr. Kennedy that Mr. Bevin’s personal notes showed that Nehru appeared “flummoxed” when Mr. Bevin pointed out to him the inconsistency of his stand on aggression in Korea and in Kashmir). Mr. Kennedy affirmed that the US wished to pursue a settlement of Kashmir as rapidly and effectually as possible and Mr. Garner said this was certainly also the UK position.

iv. possible united states and/or united kingdom action with respect to peripheral south asian problems: afghan-pakistan dispute, nepal, tibet, french and portuguese possessions on the subcontinent and indian minorities in ceylon

Mr. Kennedy then explained the latest developments in connection with our proposal for talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan.15 Afghanistan had accepted, but we were still awaiting a definite reply [Page 1662] from Karachi. The Pakistanis wanted us to give them an assurance in advance that we accepted the Durand line as the valid international frontier of Pakistan. The Pakistanis had said that they would be satisfied with a private assurance, but we had made perfectly clear that we could not state our position in advance as this would vitiate the whole basis on which we were suggesting talks without prior conditions and for which we were offering to lend our good offices. We thought our position with respect to the Durand line implicit in our recognition of Pakistan at the time of partition, but it was impossible for us to make this explicit now. We had also told the Pakistanis that if the talks failed we would then consider whether we could make some statement making specific our stand on the Durand Line. Mr. Garner said that the Pakistanis had also raised with the UK the question of the US position on the Durand Line and the UK had undertaken to inquire of the Department of State about this issue. A reply from Washington was now awaited. The British officials suggested that, in light of what Mr. Kennedy had just explained about our position, perhaps it would be helpful for the UK to send a message to Karachi which, without in any way committing the US, would reassure the Pakistanis that our position on the Durand Line was in fact favorable and remove Pakistani suspicions of the motives behind the US proposal for talks which, to the UK officials, seemed to be the only obstacle delaying Pakistani acceptance. The UK agreed to draft a message of this nature and to show it to Mr. Kennedy.


Mr. Kennedy said we had in mind sending a small diplomatic mission to Katmandu consisting perhaps only of a Chargé and possibly one other official. For the present at least, our Ambassador in New Delhi16 would continue to be accredited also to the Nepal Government. Mr. Scott said that UK experience had been that it was usually unsatisfactory to have one envoy accredited to two countries. He thought it might at least be helpful in this case for our Chargé in Katmandu to be able to explain to the Nepal Government that he was free to report directly to the State Department.

Both the UK and US representatives agreed that our exchange of views at the time of the recent Nepal crisis had been very useful. The UK officials felt that it was a little too early to be overly optimistic about the situation in Nepal, but Mr. Garner pointed out that the problem would diminish as, inevitably, Nepal was brought more and more within the Indian sphere.

[Page 1663]


On Tibet, Mr. Kennedy said that the US still had in mind the Tibetan appeal to the UN against Chinese aggression. We would probably go along with any major support in the UN for consideration of this appeal, but we did not intend to take any intiative ourselves in the matter. The UK officials said that the British position was substantially the same and that the UK believed the issue was mainly one for determination by India, as the UK had in fact already made clear to the Indian Government.

While it was generally recognized by the group that there would be little in the way of practical result from UN consideration of the appeal, Mr. Kennedy pointed out that we were concerned about the moral aspect of overlooking aggression anywhere in the world. Mr. Scott agreed that this was a valid concern and he thought it might also be useful to point out to India the moral issues involved.

French and Portuguese Possessions

Mr. Kennedy said that the US preferred to have as little to do as possible with the problem of French and Portuguese possessions in India. The UK thought that India was probably in no great hurry at the moment to press the holding of referendums. India was probably somewhat fearful of an adverse result. Among other factors which might work against a vote favoring India, the local inhabitants of the French possessions were now enjoying profitable trade in smuggling into India. The UK believed that Nehru was convinced of the sincerity of top level French officials in their willingness to have the future of the possessions determined through referendum. The sincerity of local French officials might be somewhat more suspect.

A settlement over the Portuguese possessions was still farther away. It was clear that Portugal would oppose a referendum since it considered its Indian possessions part of the Portuguese Crown territories. Mr. Garner said that, however it was explained, the fact seemed to be that the heat had for the moment gone out of this whole problem of the French and Portuguese possessions.

India–Ceylon Relations

The UK said that, generally speaking, there was no serious current problem over Indians in Ceylon. This issue was, of course, potentially difficult and Ceylon always had in the back of its mind the fear of some positive Indian action of one sort or another. In reply to Mr. Kennedy’s question, the British officials saw no attempt in Ceylon to freeze out the Indian inhabitants from Ceylonese citizenship; to the contrary, the Ceylonese had made it possible for Indians to acquire citizenship after a reasonable period of residence.

  1. Mr. Kennedy met in London on February 6 through 10 with officials of the British Foreign Office, Commonwealth Relations Office, Treasury, and Ministry of Defense. The topics of discussion in addition to those covered by this memorandum included U.S. and U.K. policies with respect to economic and military assistance to South Asia; the desirability of a regional association in Asia including South Asian countries; the Kashmir dispute; the Afghan-Pakistan dispute; and the Indian request for U.S. wheat. The memoranda of these conversations were enclosures to despatch No. 3829 from London, February 15 (890.00/2–1551).
  2. Mr. George C. McGhee, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs, had held talks with British officials in London in September 1950.
  3. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations.
  4. For the text of this declaration, dated January 12, see Nicholas Mansergh, Documents and Speeches on British Commonwealth Affairs, 1931–1952 (London, Oxford University Press, 1953), vol. ii, p. 1206.
  5. Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Indian Deputy Prime Minister, died on December 15, 1950.
  6. Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, Secretary General, Indian Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations.
  7. Sir Oliver Charles Harvey, British Ambassador in France.
  8. Reference is to a remark by President Truman at his press conference of November 30, 1950, where in the course of discussion on the Korean crisis the President indicated that consideration of steps necessary to meet the present military situation included the use of the atomic bomb. For the complete text of the press conference, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1950 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1961), pp. 724–728. For additional documentation relating to the President’s statement, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. i, pp. 1 ff. and ibid., volume vii .
  9. Dr. Subandrio, Indonesian Ambassador in the United Kingdom.
  10. The Colombo Plan was a report published on November 28, 1950, by the British Commonwealth Consultative Committee on South and Southeast Asia calling for the economic development of the area. At a meeting of the Consultative Committee held in Colombo on February 12–20, the United States was represented by Mr. Kennedy. Documentation on U.S. cooperation with the Colombo Plan is in Department of State file 890.00.
  11. Documentation on the possible entry of Pakistan into defense arrangements for the Middle East is scheduled for publication in volume v.
  12. Liaquat Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan.
  13. The text of this agreement, dated November 11, 1947, is in Mansergh, Documents, vol. ii, p. 749.
  14. Ernest Bevin, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  15. For documentation concerning the proposals made by the United States to the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan on November 6, 1950, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. v, pp. 1446 ff.
  16. Loy W. Henderson.