Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 204

No. 375
Memorandum by the Ambassador to the Soviet Union (Bohlen) of a Luncheon Meeting, Berlin, January 28, 1954 1


I lunched with Zarubin at his request yesterday. The luncheon took place at his billet in Karlshorst and we were alone the entire time.

In general, during the conversation which lasted well over an hour, Zarubin did not depart in any important particular from standard Soviet positions but was extremely moderate and in many respects realistic in his observations. His chief points seemed to be to impress upon me the seriousness of the Soviet desire to bring about some tranquility in international relations. He repeatedly referred to the domestic program in the Soviet Union as being predicated upon a period of relative calm in international affairs.

[Page 855]

The Five-Power Conference

Zarubin very briefly reiterated the standard Soviet arguments in favor of a five-power conference—namely, that Communist China was one of the great powers, that it was unquestionably the Government of China, and its alleged rights in the UN, etc. When he replied to my questions as to how long the Soviet Delegation was going to continue to argue the five-power conference, he said that they felt it would be most unfortunate if the “door was slammed on this question” at this stage of the conference. He said this would cause a most unfavorable impression in “Asiatic public opinion.” I asked if by that he meant China, at which he merely smiled. I told him that having been in the United States, he knew very well how deep were the feelings of the American people—and I wished to stress people—on this point and therefore no American Secretary of State could or would be in a position to agree to the Soviet proposal for a five-power conference. Zarubin said indeed he understood this and recognized that this was a vital and controlling factor and that this question had entered deeply into public opinion. I asked him if Mr. Molotov understood this and he said that he did. I then added consequently Mr. Molotov must be aware that there was no hope of acceptance of his proposition. Zarubin then (forecasting that day’s development on this subject) said that the Soviet Delegation did not wish to see their proposal finally and unqualifiedly rejected at this stage and wondered whether some form of provisional understanding which would indicate the question was still open might not be worked out. I said I didn’t see any basis for even any provisional understanding on this point but that at previous four-power meetings frequently after general discussion they had moved on to other points on the agenda without foreclosing the possibility of returning to this subject later on.

On the general question of a five-power conference I told Mr. Zarubin that I thought this was a familiar example of Soviet diplomatic technique which, in effect, was to start with the conclusion rather than at the beginning. He laughed and admitted this was so. I then said that a conference in the true sense of the word involving Communist China would have to follow a whole series of events in the Far East which would demonstrate in deed and not in word that Communist China was prepared to live in peace with her neighbors. I said that I thought the people of the world and those of the United States in particular were tired of words and mechanisms such as conferences and had lost a good deal of faith in their efficacy; that what was required was some concrete demonstration that attitudes had indeed changed in the past year. I mentioned particularly in this connection that there appeared to have been an [Page 856] agreement in principle for a political conference on Korea but that this was being stalled by Chinese obstruction. Zarubin inquired if we attached importance to the political conference as one of the indications we had in mind. I said that I thought statements of the Secretary of State had made this very plain and that we could not understand why on the basis of the UN resolution the conference couldn’t go on about its business. Zarubin developed the customary arguments about Indian participation and that of the Soviet Union in which he made it very clear that the Soviet Union under no circumstances would participate in a manner which might convey the impression that they had been active participants in the war in Korea. He said he could not understand why we wished to exclude India, a leading Asiatic nation. I told him I was not personally acquainted with all the details of the political conference but that I personally felt that the Indian issue was somewhat artificial since, while nobody had proposed it, Japan certainly would have a greater interest as an Asiatic nation. Zarubin reacted quite sharply to this and said Japan had nothing whatsoever to do in the Korean matter. I told him that I thought geography was against him and it certainly had for that reason alone a greater interest than India, but no one had suggested Japan. I repeated that I was not in a position to go into any detail with him on the subject of Indian participation but that the main thinking was that an agreed political conference should get under way and not be blocked.

The conversation was turned to Indochina in which I said that this was another place where the Chinese Communists without preconditions should be willing to demonstrate their professed desire for peaceful relations. I also told him that talk about reduction of tension seemed to be very general in character and that tension was not something which arose of itself but stemmed from certain unresolved questions. I mentioned that as long as Germany remained divided it was idle to talk about a tranquil situation in Europe; the same was true of Korea since divided countries by that very fact were clearly sources of tension. I added to this Indochina. Zarubin did not disagree and seemed interested since he returned to it and the thesis of deeds not words on the part of Communist China. I told him frankly that in my view the five-power conference and attendant subjects were merely a means of advancing the question of recognition and position of Red China as the Soviet Government desired and that we felt this was a question which had to be met squarely in the United Nations (and the US views on this point were well known) but in any case could not be obliquely settled by backdoor procedures arising from a four-power conference. Zarubin virtually admitted that this indeed was the purpose of the Soviet proposal but attempted to explain it as a step towards the [Page 857] normalization of what he called an abnormal situation, that one of the great powers of the world was denied its legitimate place, etc. I told him, as the Secretary of State said, we did not deny the existence of Communist China but felt that there were other considerations of a moral and ethical nature which were even more important since, in essence, there was no hope for the calm in international affairs he had spoken of unless accepted rules of civilized international conduct were observed by all nations and that the size of a nation in our view did not absolve it from the obligation to observe these rules. Zarubin, in closing this part of the conversation, again repeated the desire for some procedure in regard to this question at this stage which would indicate it had not been totally and finally rejected “slamming the door.”


Zarubin, in emphasizing at considerable length the importance the Soviet Government attached to disarmament, developed the thesis that no one wanted war and added that he was convinced the United States did not wish war either, and that in those circumstances an arms race was totally unnecessary. He repeated all the obvious remarks about burdens on the people and interference with measures for improving the lot of humanity in general with again a reference to the Soviet domestic program.

In conclusion Zarubin said he thought that Ambassadors could play a useful role as channels of communication and means of talking frankly and in this fashion be of real assistance to their Ministers, to which I replied that in general Ambassadors were paid to be helpful wherever they could.2

Charles E. Bohlen
  1. The source text bears a handwritten notation by O’Connor that Secretary Dulles had seen it.
  2. On Jan. 29 Bohlen also drafted another memorandum of his dinner conversation with Zarubin, this one for Secretary Dulles dealing only with the discussion of atomic energy. It reads as follows:

    “Several times during my luncheon yesterday with Zarubin he emphasized the great importance the Soviet Government attached to these bilateral exchanges of views on atomic energy. He said at least twice that the Soviet Government fully and unqualifiedly approved the idea of bilateral talks between the U.S. and the USSR and stressed the importance of being able to conduct these talks in privacy, without publicity as to their content. In accordance with your instructions I told him that you would discuss with Mr. Molotov the fixing of the time and place for continuance of these procedural discussions inaugurated between you and Zarubin.” (Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 215)