Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 203

No. 386
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Merchant) 1

top secret
  • Participants: The Secretary of State
  • Mr. L.T. Merchant
  • Mr. V.M. Molotov
  • Mr. Andrei Gromyko
  • Mr. V.S. Semenov
  • Mr. O.A. Troyanovski (Interpreter)

The conversation after dinner2 took place in a corner of the living room after the party rose from the table and lasted nearly an hour and a half. It continued for some time in the informal, non-serious tone of the general conversation at the dinner table. Molotov was quiet in his manner and almost avuncular in his discourse. He gave no indication of ill-humor or bad temper over his lack of success at the conference table during the afternoon. Semenov said nothing during the entire course of the conversation but followed it with rapt attention. Gromyko, in the earlier stages kept up a side conversation on trivalties with Merchant until Molotov directed the conversation to the subject of China. Thereafter he too followed the conversation with close attention but contributed nothing to it.

[Page 881]

The Secretary and Molotov exchanged information as to their ages. Molotov, after saying that whereas he was 63, he would be 64 a month later. When the Secretary said that he would be 66 also in a month, Molotov said that just showed that he could not hope to catch up with the Secretary. The Secretary then said that he hoped that both of them would be in their own homes for their birthdays. Molotov contended himself with saying that would be much more pleasant.

Molotov then said that whereas, of course, it was well-known that newspapers in Moscow represent their Government’s point of view, he was interested as to what newspapers in the United States reflected the administration’s views. The Secretary replied that probably the New York Herald Tribune came closest to reflecting the administration’s policies than any other paper, but that even within the paper there were conflicts and it carried some columnists who were critical of the President and the administration. In the previous administration he recalled, the New York Times had occupied a comparable position. In Washington the Secretary stated the Post was somewhat left of the administration policies, and the Times Herald to the right, but that The Evening Star probably came closer to the middle course reflecting the general policies of the administration. Molotov seemed genuinely interested in these observations.

Molotov commented on the fact that from the appearance of the U.S. Delegation in Berlin there had been a radical change in the State Department’s personnel. The Secretary said that there had been a number of changes in the top levels and the key policy positions, but that the Foreign Service Officers were continuing to make their professional contribution. There was some chit-chat as to where Mr. Matthews had been assigned and on the appointment of Mr. Murphy whom Molotov had known, as well as several other persons Molotov had seen at previous conferences.

Then Senator Vandenberg’s name came up and the Secretary deplored the loss to the United States represented by the death within a short space of time of Senator Vandenberg and Senator Taft. He pointed out that the former had been a power and authority on foreign affairs and that Senator Taft had occupied a similar position on domestic issues, and now the Secretary stated the power and authority in the legislature was more dispersed. The Secretary mentioned the coincidence that both had died of cancer. (At this point Gromyko (who is reported by the British here to have cancer) asked Merchant, with obvious concern, if it was really true that Taft had died of cancer. When Merchant confirmed this, Gromyko commented with feeling on the fact that it was a horrible disease.)

[Page 882]

Molotov then asked the Secretary who was the true author of NATO. He asked if it was true that it was Senator Vandenberg’s creation. The Secretary responded that he did not think so, and in fact he did not know who had given birth to the idea. He recalled that he had been summoned back from his vacation for a secret conference at Blair House to meet with General Marshall, Under Secretary Lovett and Senator Vandenberg. The purpose of the conference had been to lay the plans for the formulation of the North Atlantic Treaty and to judge the acceptability of the idea to the Congress. Gromyko, during this exchange had said on the side to Merchant that personally he had always regarded Walter Lippmann as the intellectual father of NATO, since in his writings since 1945, Lippmann had stressed the importance of the Atlantic Community. Merchant started to say that the author of NATO according to Gromyko was Walter Lippmann, but half way through the sentence it was misunderstood in interpretation and Molotov laughingly said that he had not realized that Gromyko was the father of NATO, but now we knew. Gromyko laughed heartily, but with visible effort.

About this point the Secretary said with great seriousness to Molotov that he hoped before the Conference ended at Berlin some area of agreement could be found which would enable the Conference to make a real contribution to the settlement of outstanding issues. He said that so far nothing had been accomplished.

Molotov replied seriously that he shared the same hope and that he felt that if we searched for such areas of agreement we would find them. He felt sure that Mr. Dulles had something in his pocket he had not yet produced, whereas he had already produced many things since Monday. The Secretary commented that Molotov’s pockets seemed to him quite empty since all they had produced so far were rabbits which might be good for rabbit stew but were scarcely the stuff out of which successful conferences were made. Molotov agreed that rabbits were only good for stew, but insisted that he had not produced rabbits but some good ideas which could possibly be made better with modifications or additions.

Molotov then turned the conversation abruptly, and with obvious seriousness, to the question of U.S. policy toward Communist China. He said that he really could not understand it since it seemed so clearly contrary to the U.S. own interests. He asked how long we would continue to take seriously Dr. Tsiang the KT representative in New York.3

The Secretary stated that against the background of the demonstrated bitter animosity of the Chinese Communists to the U.S., it [Page 883] was inconceivable to consider a change in our attitude in the absence of prior action by the Chinese indicating a basic change on their part.

Molotov replied that he did not understand the basis for our China policy or where it was leading. He said that he had the feeling that it was dominated by emotion, but that he also had the feeling that apart (sic) from those in America who naturally would agree with him (Molotov) there was a large body of U.S. opinion which took a more sober view and felt that modification of present U.S. policy to Communist China was necessary. Molotov said that in politics, emotion should not be a factor; that policy should be based upon facts and the knowledge of what the future prospects were. He went on to say that he might better understand our policy if China were a small country, or if there were any chance of the Government being replaced. If it were a small country “external pressure” or other influences might be brought to bear to change the Government, but in fact, China was the largest and most powerful country in all of Asia. Moreover, he stated, Communist control of China was an historic event. He said that for a long time Russia had supported Chiang Kai-shek had given him credits, but he had gone bankrupt; he had failed to unify China, whereas, Mao Tse-tung for the first time in hundreds of years had succeeded in unifying all of China. This accomplishment has given the Chinese people a sense of national pride and has also sharpened their sensitivity to affronts or threats.

The Secretary said that the basis for our policy was very simple and he would be glad to explain it. The fact is that one does not strengthen one’s enemy be giving him increased authority or prestige, or any other sort of help. To strengthen one’s enemy merely increased his capacity to damage one. China seemed implacably hostile to us and had demonstrated this to us in many ways with which Mr. Molotov was familiar. The Secretary said there was no conceivable basis for a change in our policy in the absence of a change in China’s action and policies supported by deeds.

Mr. Molotov went back to the sensitivity of the Chinese Communist regime. He said they had a great deal of experience in dealing with other nationalities and of course they had very close relations with Peking. He said, of course, he could understand Chinese attitudes, and he was satisfied that their attitude was fundamentally determined by their sensitivity and hence their reaction to discrimination, affronts and threats. He said it was of great importance to the United States to improve its relations with China. In this action he said that his proposal for a 5-Power Conference4 would [Page 884] have been of great help. He pointed out that unlike the British, whose relations with China over the past century have been replete with difficulties and conflicts, the U.S. in its historical relations has a firm basis for the development of friendship.

Molotov then made a curious statement that so far as he could see, the chief consequence to date of U.S. policy toward Communist China was to drive Peking into a closer relationship with Moscow. Naturally, he said, this was agreeable to Moscow, but he could not conceive how this development could be agreeable to the U.S. or in the true interests of the U.S.

The Secretary repeated the simple, fundamental basis upon which our policy rested. He then asked Mr. Molotov what Mr. Molotov considered were the possibilities of a settlement developing from the Political Conference on Korea.

Molotov remarked, of course, that the Conference was not even agreed upon yet, but that in any event in the existing embittered atmosphere he could not so far see anything important coming out of the Conference; possibly later, but not now.

The Secretary said then he thought he could understand some of the concerns of the Soviets; he assumed they would not want to see a hostile power or country near to Port Arthur or Vladivostok. Consequently, he wondered whether there might be any permanent solution or settlement which would involve the neutralization of Korea.

Molotov showed no surprise, nor any great interest in pursuing this subject, but dismissed it by saying maybe later something like that would be possible, but not at the present time with the embittered feeling of the Chinese toward the U.S. He said that Rhee 5 was “impossible.” He asked the Secretary why we did not try to get in contact with the Chinese Communists to see if things could not be improved.

The Secretary said dryly that we had been in contact with the Chinese for many months in the armistice and subsequent negotiations in Korea.

Molotov rejoined that all that, of course, was at a low level. He said that possibly something at a higher level would be useful. He said that there must be some ways and means whereby that could be achieved. The Secretary indicated no interest.

Molotov went back again to the fact that he was frankly puzzled by the policy toward China. He assumed that we realized that it was complicating our relations with other Asian countries who looked at the way that China was being treated and thought that maybe some day they would be treated in the same fashion. In [Page 885] India, Nehru, for instance, does not like Communism, and he does not like the Chinese Communists, but he recognizes it as controlling China and he recognizes China as the most powerful country in Asia. Therefore, Nehru maintains normal relations with China.

In Japan, also, said Mr. Molotov, there are circles which are unfriendly to the Chinese Communist Government, but they are looking at China and looking at our policy toward China, and this cannot be a good thing for America’s interests. Also, he said, the Japanese understand the Chinese well and sympathize with them.

At this point the Secretary indicated that it was late and rose to go. He said he thought that the exchange of views had been very useful, and that he wanted Molotov to understand our policy even if he did not agree with it. He also said that he was also interested in Molotov’s advice, particularly since it was free, but that he knew Molotov would understand if he did not follow his advice.

Throughout, Molotov had talked quietly, occasionally with a light touch, and always so deftly as to create an appearance of friendly objectivity. At no point was he violent in his criticism of the U.S. He cast his discourse in the shape of an apparently genuine quest for information and tender of counsel.

During the entire after dinner conversation Molotov never mentioned Germany, EDC, or any other contentious issue. There was no mention of Indochina during the course of the conversation. Approximately a full hour was devoted to the discourse on China.

Secretary Dulles and his party left at about 11:15, with the entire Soviet group making every effort to be cordial and hospitable.6

  1. This conversation took place at the residence of the Soviet High Commissioner for Germany in Berlin on Jan. 28. Participants in the discussion, other than those listed below, are indicated in the text of the memorandum.
  2. For a record of the conversation during dinner, see the notes by Jackson, supra.
  3. Dr. Tingfu Tsiang, Chinese Permanent Representative at the United Nations.
  4. For this Soviet proposal, see Secto 29, Document 359.
  5. Syngman Rhee, President of the Republic of Korea.
  6. On Jan. 30 Secretary Dulles transmitted to President Eisenhower a summary of this conversation and added that he expected to meet privately with the Soviet Foreign Minister that day to pursue atomic energy proposals. (Dulte 18 from Berlin, Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 212)