Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 184

Knight Minutes1


  • Place and Date of Meeting with Soviets.

Cable references:

  • Secto 7
  • Secto 82

Mr. Eden reported on the meeting of experts (Secto 7). General agreement was achieved, except for two points requiring guidance by the Foreign Ministers: date and place of the meeting. While Berlin had certain disadvantages, it was difficult to make a real issue out of the place of meeting.

Mr. Bidault agreed that the place of the meeting should not become a “first-class topic of controversy”. However, Berlin was definitely undesirable, and he suggested that the Western Ambassadors in Moscow make a verbal approach. If the Soviets remain firm then the West would accept Berlin. The same arguments against Vienna, which were accepted by the Foreign Ministers at their July meeting, were even more valid in the case of Berlin.3 When asked by the Secretary for precise suggestions, Mr. Bidault mentioned tentatively Geneva, Lucerne, “or even Sweden”. Obviously Geneva was his first choice in view of facilities of all kinds available there.

A brief discussion ensued concerning the locale in Berlin and it was [Page 1764] generally agreed that the Allied Control Headquarters was the obvious choice.

Initiating discussion of the “time” question, the Secretary spoke at length regarding the essential and vital importance of this matter, and that other considerations “will have to fall into place with it”. The US was ready to accept a four-power meeting on the assumption that it will be over quickly and not converted into a Soviet propaganda weapon to upset Western European progress. The US was under no illusion about the Soviet concept of the meeting. True, they have dropped their absurd preconditions, but it was clear that they had the intention to make the same absurd demands at the conference. While it was impossible to be certain of the position of the “other side”, we could be 90% sure in this case that the only purpose was to delay beyond a time when it would no longer be possible to put into execution our plans to strengthen the West through the EDC and NATO. Sabotage was the obvious intent of the Soviets.

The Secretary emphasized that time is now a very important factor and not a matter of convenience. Time was running out. While we all have parliamentary difficulties, the US Congress was now in such a mood that unless positive action toward continental European unity within NATO occurs within the next two or three months, any appropriations voted would be so rigid as to have very adverse repercussions on NATO programs now contemplated. The Secretary illustrated this with a description of the Richards Amendment4 passed by Congress when the urgency was not as great as now. If there is no likelihood of early action—and particularly the creation of a strong Franco-German kernel of strength for NATO*—it will be very difficult to obtain further appropriations. Congressional committees will reach rather definite conclusions in early March. For all of these reasons time is to be considered as of the essence and the matter of the place is secondary. Our object is to have completed our explorations of Soviet attitudes in good time to permit the various needed parliamentary actions during February.

The Secretary did not disagree with Mr. Bidault concerning the place and only wanted to stress the importance of time, as he could not take the responsibility of saying that strong Congressional support for NATO would continue in the absence of concrete development of economic-military strength in Europe. Therefore we hope the meeting can be held in early January, and if possible, conclude it by the end of the month so that by early February we can see if we can proceed or not. Otherwise the Soviet maneuver will have achieved its purpose of sowing disunity, as revealed so obviously in Malenkov’s speech of [Page 1765] August 8, which we would have quoted had not Mr. Bidault done so yesterday.5

Mr. Eden saw the force of the arguments relative to the importance of “time” but added as a consideration the time needed for the necessary preparations by the West. Concerning the place, he had originally disliked Berlin, was still not entirely happy about it, but thought it might have definite advantages. In particular, Berlin would have a direct relationship to the topic which we wanted to discuss, i.e., Germany and not China. Mr. Eden had no objection to Mr. Bidault’s suggestion of a verbal approach by the three Ambassadors to Molotov. The Secretary interjected his approval. Mr. Eden went on to suggest a date around mid-January, expressing the thought that two weeks should be enough to probe Soviet intentions and that thus Mr. Dulles’ timetable could be met.

The Secretary expressed preference for the first week in January.

Mr. Bidault expressed full agreement with the Secretary’s position concerning the “dramatic importance” of the time element at this particular moment. However certain facts and embarrassing circumstances for the French Government existed. The new French President will be elected on December 17 and will take office on January 17 or 18. Then the new President must name a new Prime Minister. The problems resulting from these constitutional questions were such that he must consult Mr. Laniel. Of course there was a possibility that the present government could be retained in office by the new President but Mr. Bidault termed this possibility a “miracle”.

Mr. Bidault then pointed out that while the discussion had centered on a date for the start of the conference, its duration and the date of its conclusion were of at least equal importance. Personally he would not be shocked by an agreed termination date, as the West could not afford to be dragged into another Palais Rose.6 Because of the exigencies of the French situation, we should concentrate on a closing rather than an opening date of the conference. Mr. Bidault then threw out a very tentative thought that the West might afford to gamble by disregarding French constitutional problems and suggesting an early date on the assumption that the Soviets would not come. This, however, was very risky and he would have to mention it to Laniel. (In making this proposition Mr. Bidault gave the definite impression that he was thinking out loud and not making considered French suggestion.)

The Secretary, while not wishing to embarrass the French Government, nevertheless felt compelled to stress the importance of holding the four-power meeting before the inauguration of the new French [Page 1766] President. Parliament would remain the same and therefore there was no reason why the present government could not speak for the French people after the recent vote, just as representatively as the following government. Furthermore, recent history has shown that often “much time” is needed to form a new French Government. Could Mr. Bidault hazard a firm guess as to the time which might be required to form the new government on this occasion? The Secretary was afraid that if several new Ministers were brought into the government considerable further time might be needed to formulate policies. Thus time would slip by. Finally if the meeting were held before January 17, the French would have the advantage of being represented “by the Foreign Minister here most experienced in the conduct of these affairs.” This could be a great advantage to all of us.

Mr. Bidault appreciated the compliment and said that it would be easier for him to foresee developments on the French political scene after the election of the new President on December 17. However he did not see how politically the Laniel Government with its life as limited as it is could undertake such an important task as negotiations with the Soviets. If Mr. Laniel agreed he would be very audacious. Mr. Bidault concluded that he was especially regretful to take such a position since he completely agreed with the views expressed by the Secretary.

Mr. Eden summed the matter up as follows:

The time problem must be discussed with Mr. Laniel. Meanwhile it was agreed that;
the West would accept Berlin, but;
prior attempt would be made verbally by the three Ambassadors in Moscow to obtain Soviet agreement on another place. This démarche was only agreed, however, on the understanding that it would not cause delay.

The Secretary added the further assumption that the meeting would be in the Allied Control Headquarters in Berlin, which according to advice received by the US was agreeable to Chancellor Adenauer. The Secretary then asked Mr. Bidault if the latter part of December might be a less difficult date for the French than early January.

Mr. Eden thought that this still earlier date would be unacceptable to Chancellor Adenauer. In view of all the difficulties and problems set forth during the meeting, we must be patient and cautious. All agreed this morning that the earliest possible date was the best, but unfortunately it is difficult to reconcile our constitutional difficulties with what we would prefer to do.

The Secretary then raised the question of duration of the four-power conference mentioned earlier by Mr. Bidault, and expressed doubt that the Soviets would agree on a termination date, in view of their obvious intent to drag the proceedings out. Would it be worthwhile to consider [Page 1767] whether the Ambassadors should also explore this question with Molotov? Mr. Bidault said he had not intended to suggest that this question be broached with the Soviets. He had merely intended that agreement be reached between the three Western powers as to a date by which either Deputies would be appointed to wind up the meeting or else a public statement would be made to the effect that continuation of the meeting would be a mere loss of time. Any mention of a termination date to the Soviets would give them a valuable weapon as it would facilitate the development of their tactics.

Mr. Eden fully agreed with Mr. Bidault that there should be no mention of a termination date to the Soviets. The Secretary also agreed. All three Ministers thought in terms of three weeks for the four-power meeting.

In discussing what should be said to the press, one point of substance occurred. Mr. Eden suggested that the press be informed that general agreement had been reached and that a drafting group had been appointed. The Secretary opposed that the press be told anything to the effect that the West had decided to attend a conference with the Soviets until the question of date had been settled satisfactorily, as otherwise the US may have to reconsider.

  1. The U.S. Delegation transmitted to Washington a summary of this meeting in Secto 8 from Bermuda, Dec. 5. (396.1/12–553) This telegram was repeated to Paris, London, Bonn, and Moscow.
  2. Secto 7 transmitted the telegraphic summary, p. 1761; regarding Secto 8, see footnote 1 above.
  3. For documentation on the Washington Foreign Ministers meetings, July 10–14, see pp. 1582 ff.
  4. For the text of the Richards amendment, see Edcol 10, July 13, p. 796.
  5. On the Continent. [Footnote in the source text.]
  6. For a record of the session under reference here, see Plenary Minutes 1, p. 1754.
  7. Documentation on the quadripartite Deputy Foreign Ministers meeting (Conference de Palais Rose), March–June 1951, is presented in Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. iii, Part 1, pp. 1086 ff.