795.00/7—2552: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

top secret

92. Part I. USG has been giving careful thought to present status Korean armistice negotiations and where we go from here. For a while there were encouraging signs leading us to hope that Commies may be preparing to make necessary concessions to achieve armistice; e.g., PanikkarChou conversation June 15, Zinchenko conversations with Rafael and Gross, as well as Commie requests in Panmunjom for executive sessions and for four-day recess during week July 14. Since then, however, [Page 423] Peiping’s disavowal of its “Alternative B”, and Zinchenko’s refusal to see Gross were discouraging signs; at Panmunjom, Commie attitude since recess has been complete intransigence with no promise of change.

Dept has been considering desirability of having UNC negotiators propose at Panmunjom some variant on Panikkar’s “Alternative B”. We have decided, however, that at present such a step wld not be desirable, since it wld almost surely be rejected and might give impression that we were weakening on our firm position. We are inclined to feel time has come for strong effort to determine whether Commies do or do not desire an armistice. We are, therefore, considering whether it is now desirable to reopen Korean question with Sov Union, making clear that our position on principle of non-forcible repatriation of PWs is firm and final, and put it up to Commies whether there will be peace in Korea or not. We visualize this step as in nature probing action as well as stimulant to exertion Sov influence on Chi and NKs, which might at least elicit possible indications of Sov attitude toward armistice or continuance hostilities this time.

However, before reaching a decision on this matter we wld appreciate your views as to: (1) likelihood that an approach to Sovs at this time cld exert any favorable effect on armistice negotiations or indicate Sov attitudes toward continuation hostilities in Korea; (2) to whom such an approach shld be made, we assume Vishinsky, but we wld like your views on whether approach shld possibly be made to Stalin; and (3) nature of approach. With regard to last point, we particularly have in mind question of whether approach shld be confined to generalities in an effort to have Sovs exert their influence on NKs and Chi to resolve issue at Panmunjom, or whether we shld put to Sovs a specific formula for resolution of issue, possibly along gen lines of Chou En-lai’s Alternative “B”. We also recognize that nature of approach wld vary considerably dependent on whether it is made to Vishinsky or Stalin.

It is our thought that in making any such approach it wld be important to avoid giving impression of overeagerness or weakening on our part, and, while stressing seriousness of failure of armistice negotiations, avoiding anything which might be construed as a threat. (In this regard you will recall Kirk-Vishinsky talks, Oct. 1951; Deptel 249 Oct. 3 and Embtel 586 Oct. 5.)2 We wld also consider it desirable that while, particularly if talk is with Vishinsky, it might be well to leave an entirely informal text of your remarks, there shld be no formal communication to Sov Govt.

Part II. There is given below for your comment our preliminary views on content of such approach.

[Page 424]

You might open by stating that it is now more than one year since Malik made his public suggestion concerning an armistice in Korea and Kirk obtained from Gromyko clarification of Sov views in this regard. US Govt considers that UNC armistice negotiators have displayed unprecedented patience in dealing with Chi and NK negotiators. In spite of difficulties, slow progress has been made and agreement has been reached on all substantive portions of armistice except question of whether UNC wld be under obligation to use force to repatriate prisoners violently opposed to being returned to Chi or NKs. This question has now been in issue for seven months. Although NK and Chi Commie negotiators have refused to be explicit, it appears that they may be willing resolve Korean POW problem by accepting 76,000 Koreans who UNC has indicated are available for repatriation. If this is actually case, only question holding up realization of armistice in Korea is Chi insistence that UNC be required to use force to repatriate the approximately 14,000 Chi “Volunteers” who have indicated to UNC they wld violently oppose being returned. UNC has made every effort to reach agreement, but Chi and NK negotiators have remained intransigent.

Sovs will understand US position on this subj. It long ago became evident that some POWs captured by UNC consider themselves deserters from Chi and NK armies or political refugees and that they wld violently resist being repatriated. In circumstances, public opinion US and other countries participating in Korean action wld react most strongly against use of force by UNC troops to send such persons back to NK and Chi. US Govt and other participating govts are entirely in accord on this matter and peoples of these countries are virtually unanimous in insisting on this position.

You wld make it clear that question is basic and no compromise possible on fundamental problem of whether force is to be used against prisoners resisting return. Neither US nor other countries have slightest desire to retain a single prisoner. There is no desire or intention to enroll them in any country’s mil forces, or make any other particular disposition of them. Indeed UNC inability to return these POWs will leave us with serious problem as to what to do with them.

As UNC has made it clear in negotiations, we have made every effort to encourage maximum possible number of POWs to return. Interviewing process was designed to assure return of maximum possible number, and UNC has made clear its entire willingness to return any others who change their minds and indicate a desire to return. UNC has also made clear its willingness to have POWs interviewed again by impartial body in presence of observers of both sides and to agree to the return of any additional POWs who in such interview indicate they will not resist repatriation. In fact, as we have indicated, so long as it wld not involve use of force to repatriate prisoners resisting return, [Page 425] UNC willing to consider any arrangements or procedures for interviewing or disposition of POWs.

US is discussing this matter frankly with Sov Govt as it hopes that Sov Govt, in view of attitude it has expressed in past on this subj, will fully understand US position. USG has noted that at end World War I Sov Govt entered into some 15 internatl agreements which explicitly provided that return of POWs wld be conditional upon their willingness to go back to their homeland (list of treaties set forth in immed fol tel3 not repeated to Tokyo). In World War II also it has come to our attention USSR has on several occasions assured enemy soldiers that they wld be repatriated or sent to another destination of their choice. In Korea itself, Commie negotiators have admitted that they released large numbers POWs during hostilities and even incorporated them into their own armed forces, instead of keeping them available for repatriation.

US desires to see end of fighting in Korea and has made patient and persistent efforts to negotiate armistice to this end. It has gone as far as it can or will go. Failure to achieve armistice in Korea wld aggravate explosive situation which cannot but cast heavy shadow over prospects of restoring peaceful conditions in FE and elsewhere. Without achievement armistice in Korea there is little if any prospect for any real solution other problems besetting our two Govts throughout world. You might conclude by inquiring whether Sov Govt will use influence with Chi Commies and NKs to end that they will take positive steps toward solution POW problem, in order that conclusion armistice in Korea may no longer be delayed.

Alternatively, instead of inviting Sov suggestions, you cld propose that a possible solution to question, which UNC is prepared to put forward at Panmunjom if Soviets think it worthwhile, would lie in NKs and Chi agreeing to accept the more than 83,000 prisoners which UNC is able immed to return in exchange for the approximately 12,000 they hold. Chi (and if Commies insist, Korean) POWs who have indicated to UNC they wld violently resist repatriation cld be brought to the demilitarized zone in small groups where they cld be released from UNC mil custody into custody of reps of impartial country such as India. Reps of such an impartial country wld arrange conditions under which prisoners cld in presence of Natl Red Cross Societies of both sides individually express his attitude with regard to repatriation in an entirely free atmosphere without even possibility of coercion or pressure of any kind from either side. Those who did not express an intent violently to resist repatriation wld be free immed to return to NK or Chi control and the others wld be returned to UNC side whereupon they wld immed be [Page 426] released from POW status. If Soviets turn this down we might still ask them for counter-suggestions.

Foregoing concrete proposal possibly to be put to Sovs reps only tentative US Govt thinking. A proposal of this kind is subj to numerous variants which might be acceptable to US Govt. Your suggestions with regard to details this concrete proposal wld be appreciated. Clark’s views are also being requested.

Part III. While Dept believes you have some background info re POW question immed fol tel (not repeated to Tokyo) contains summary of facts this queston for your info and, if it is decided to make an approach such use as you consider appropriate. If you desire additional info, not contained therein or in Depcirtels on Korean briefing mtgs, Dept will supply it.

  1. This telegram was repeated to Tokyo as telegram 268, “eyes only” for Murphy and for Clark’s information.

    The drafting history of this telegram is substantial. On July 24 it was redrafted in light of a discussion among Matthews, Bohlen, Nitze, Bonbright, Hickerson, Johnson, and Barbour on July 23; memorandum by Johnson to Matthews, et al., July 24, 1952, not printed (795.00/7–2452). Secretary Acheson wrote on this memorandum, to which was attached a draft of the telegram, the following: “Gave Matthews my views on this, July 25, 1952.” A memorandum by Johnson to Matthews, July 25, 1952, not printed, probably provided an accurate reflection of Acheson’s views. They were that the telegram should include a concrete spelling out of the proposal to be made to the Soviet Union and a clear indication that it was only tentative as Clark’s view had yet to be solicited. When both Clark and Kennan presented their observations, the U.S. Government could take a final position (795.00/7–2552). These suggestions were incorporated in a new draft. Barbour and other members of EUR/EE made minor revisions and successfully pressed the argument that the approach did not merit being put to Stalin (memorandum by Barbour to Johnson, July 24, 1952, not printed; 795.00/7–2452).

  2. For the text of these telegrams, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. vii, Part 1, pp. 987 and 1001, respectively.
  3. The reference was to telegram 93 to Moscow, July 25, 1952, not printed (398.571 TO/7–2552).