Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Johnson)1

top secret


  • NehruEden Exchange Re Korean Armistice.


  • Mr. Tomlinson, UK Embassy
  • Mr. Johnson, FE
  • Mr. Henkin, UNP

Mr. Tomlinson called on instructions to inform the Department in strictest confidence of a recent exchange of communications between Prime Minister Nehru and Foreign Secretary Eden and left with us copies of the communications (attached).2

[Page 203]

In commenting on the exchange, the Foreign Office stated that it is fully aware of the possibility that the Chinese Communists may be attempting to break the united front of the participating nations on the prisoner of war exchange. At the same time, the Foreign Office felt that there is some possibility that the Chinese Communists may be looking instead for a face-saving device which would permit them to accept in substance the UNC position on this question.

I expressed the Department’s appreciation at being informed of the exchange and the hope that the Embassy would let us know of any further reply from Nehru. I agreed that without being too optimistic of any fruits from these developments, it was important to follow them carefully in the hope that the Communists might be seeking a facesaving device which could lead to their acceptance of the UN position on PWs.

U. A. J.
  1. This memorandum was drafted by Louis Henkin of the Office of UN Political and Security Affairs.
  2. The first communication was an undated copy of a letter from Nehru to Eden in which the Indian Prime Minister related a conversation in Peking between Madame Pandit, who was the head of an Indian cultural delegation, and Chou En-lai. Speaking with great earnestness, the Chinese Premier said that the POW question remained the main stumbling block to an armistice and expressed the hope that the British Government might use its influence with the United States to overcome this hurdle, thus preparing the way for a broader settlement in the Far East. Nehru asked Eden to consider whether some new approach could be made to break the deadlock over the POWs.

    In the second communication Eden replied to Nehru by identifying the crux of the problem as the Communist assertion that prisoners described by the UNC as opting against repatriation were doing so because of force and intimidation and not by their own free will. Eden conceded that perhaps this belief could be genuinely held in Peking. He noted that to meet this difficulty, Ridgway had offered on May 7 a further impartial interrogation of POWs refusing repatriation by any suitable body or joint Red Cross teams with observers from both sides. The Communists, Eden continued, had plainly placed themselves in the wrong by refusing this fair offer. The issue of voluntary repatriation was so crucial, however, that Eden believed that no pains should be spared to clear up any doubts in Peking about the voluntary nature of the decision taken by those who opted against repatriation. Eden concluded that this could easily be established by suitably qualified independent investigators, but the problem was to induce the Communists to accept their findings.