No. 272
Memorandum of Conversation, by Walter Trulock of the Executive Secretariat 1

Subject: Meeting in Secretary’s Office re: The Soviet Reply to our September 2 Note.

  • Participants:
    • The Secretary
    • The Under Secretary
    • Ambassador Bohlen
    • C—Mr. MacArthur
    • S/P—Mr. Bowie
    • EE—Mr. Thurston
    • S/P—Mr. Bowie
    • GPA—Mr. Morris
    • [S/S–O—Mr. Trulock]

After reading the draft telegram2 re the Soviet note,3 the Secretary asked if we needed to say so much. Ambassador Bohlen said that some of the present draft got into the realm of speculation, and agreed with the Secretary that this part of the telegram was not needed. The Secretary said that the last part of the cable [asking for official and public reaction from London, Paris, and Bonn]4 was what we really wanted to know in order that we can decide whether to use the Soviet reply as a basis for general disengagement.

The Secretary said that he had asked Ambassador Bonnet if the Soviet reply would in any way impede French ratification of EDC. Bonnet replied that he did not think so. General Smith and Ambassador Bohlen agreed with this.

General Smith said that it was too early to try to break off the exchange of notes. We should press the Soviets on the German conference, saying let’s put first things first and if we make reasonable progress on the German and Austrian issues, then we can proceed to further, broader discussions.

The Secretary agreed and reiterated that it is too early to indulge in “thinking out loud”. We need to know the European reactions [Page 646] especially in France and Germany in order to help us decide how we should reply.

The Secretary said that the President’s flash reaction, in a previous discussion of the subject earlier in the day, had been that perhaps we ought to go ahead and talk to them about these other things. General Smith said that we should reverse the field on the Soviets and go back to the German conference [the Soviets proposed a five-power conference on easing world tensions, and a four-power conference on Germany, in that order]. Ambassador Bohlen agreed with this, and suggested that we indicate in our reply that a meeting on Germany and Austria would not preclude any Foreign Minister raising any topic within the cognizance of the CFM. The Secretary said that we could reply by saying that we were pleased to note that the Soviets agreed to discuss Germany, and that since it is now a little late to meet the October 15 date in our original invitation, that we simply set the date back a few weeks.

Mr. Thurston pointed out that the Soviets had suggested that the East and West German representatives participate in the German conference, and asked if we were accepting this if we agreed to meet on Germany. It was generally agreed that we should finesse this question and face it “at Lugano”.

The Secretary said that we needed to give some real thought to: “what are we really trying to do now. Our earlier notes had been aimed primarily at the German elections, but what do we want now? Do we really want a meeting?” Mr. Morris said that we needed to continue to take the lead on the question of German unity. General Smith said that it was clear that we could not accept meetings on the Soviet terms, and it was equally certain that they didn’t want to meet to discuss Germany and Austria because of their weakened position there. We should, therefore, pin the Soviets down on this one.

The Secretary said that, after determining the French and German reactions to the reply, our course should be one that would: (1) not impede EDC in any way, and (2) not hurt Adenauer in any way.

The Secretary referred to the unfortunate story from Paris which attributed to an American Embassy source the statement that the Soviet note was an “unconditional acceptance” of our invitation. Ambassador Bohlen said that this was most unfortunate, and that it made it even more imperative for us to put the blame on the Soviets for attempting to avoid a conference. Mr. Bowie said that the Soviet “acceptance” was an acceptance on unacceptable terms. General Smith said that the Soviet note in effect threw the ball back to us. He said that the “man in the Street” would pick up the press highlights on the Soviet reply and would get the impression [Page 647] that the Soviets are prepared to have two conferences. This would make it difficult for us to maintain that they are unwilling to meet.

Referring to the Far Eastern part of the note, Ambassador Bohlen said that this indicated Soviet concern about their relations with China, but said that no one would be more upset than the Soviets if the Chinese actually participated in a five-power conference. The Secretary asked if the Soviets intended to substitute the five-power conference for the Korean political conference. Ambassador Bohlen said that he had been struck by the reference to the Korean political conference. This may be a warning that it will never come off. He said that the Soviets are in the same box in North Korea as they are in East Germany. It is possible that they don’t want to discuss either one in a conference. Mr. Thurston referred to a certain passage in the note which he said was a hint that there would be no political conference until the status of Communist China was defined. The Secretary asked about the reference to Southeast Asia and the Pacific in the Soviet note. It was generally agreed that this referred to Indochina and to US bases in that area.

General Smith referred again to the telegram, and asked if our Embassies were not at least entitled to our first thoughts on the note. The Secretary wondered if it would be better not to prejudge the reactions of our allies. He said that their reaction to Vyshinsky’s recent speech in the UN indicated an increasing sophistication on the part of our allies. Ambassador Bohlen agreed, and went even further to state that public opinion in Western Europe has been more sophisticated for several years than the views of the political leaders. The Secretary said that we should play the Soviet note as another evasive and dilatory tactic. The problem is to determine whether this view is reflected in French and German public opinion, or if we will have to go through another exchange of notes to pin down Soviet unwillingness to meet. Ambassador Bohlen said that in view of recent developments in Germany the importance of a four-power conference has decreased. Mr. MacArthur said that Bidault had expressed this same view to Dillon the other day.

The Secretary said that Makins had reported that the initial views of London were that we would have to have another round of notes. The Secretary said that we would probably reach the same conclusions. General Smith and Mr. Bowie agreed. Ambassador Bohlen agreed, but pointed out that if we did meet with the Soviets on Germany, they would argue that we had accepted their entire note.

[Page 648]

It was agreed that if the text of the note was not released in Moscow within the next few hours, we should arrange to informally release it here in time for the morning papers. If an unofficial English translation were to be released by the Department, we should clarify the language to indicate that the Soviets do not “propose to call” the conference.

The Secretary asked that the draft telegram be revised to reflect the discussion. [This was done by Messrs. Thurston and Morris. See telegram 1201 to Paris.5]

  1. This conversation took place at 4:15 p.m. on Sept. 29.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. Supra.
  4. These and following brackets are in the source text.
  5. Telegram 1201 summarized the reaction to the Soviet note as indicated in this memorandum of conversation. (396.1/9–2953)