Memorandum of Conversation, by Maurice M. Bernbaum, Adviser to the United States Delegation at the United Nations General Assembly1



  • Latin American Caucus of November 26, 1952

The Secretary, accompanied by Amb. Gross, Messrs. Ross, Popper, Wells and Bernbaum, was invited by Dr. Carias2 to attend the meeting of the Latin American Delegates which had already been called to discuss other matters of common interest to them. In extending the invitation to the Secretary, Dr. Carias mentioned the desirability of working out a common LA–US approach on the Korean question. He felt that such action was desirable in view of the conflicting views expressed in the various meetings of the 21 sponsorship powers and in the press.

Following a brief introduction by Dr. Carias, the Secretary described the situation leading up to the latest amendment by the Indian Delegation to its resolution providing for the transfer to the United Nations of the responsibility for the disposition, as well as care and maintenance of the POW’s in the event that a solution had not been reached by the Political Conference within 60 days. He added that there had already been presented another amendment by Denmark3 reducing the 60-day [Page 695] period to 30 days, and stated that the Indian resolution so amended would be satisfactory to the United States.

The Secretary interpreted Paragraph 5 of the operative section of the Indian resolution as meaning that the screening of the prisoners would be performed by the Repatriation Commission, otherwise provided for in the resolution, and not by the contending parties. He expressed the opinion that this was the intention of the Indian Delegation despite the lack of drafting precision in Paragraph 5 and stated that he would have no objection if a clarifying amendment were presented.

The Secretary went on to say that the present satisfactory situation on the Korean item was due largely to the skillful handling of Committee 1 by Amb. Muniz4 and to the unwavering and heartening support of the other countries in the Western Hemisphere who represented a veritable pillar of strength in contrast to the tendency of others toward weakness and compromise. He then defined the term “Western Hemisphere” as that part of the North and South American continents south of the Canadian border. This produced some laughter and applause.

The Secretary then spoke of the tactics to be followed in regard to the various resolutions now before Committee 1 on the Korean item. He hoped that all of the Latin American Delegations would find it possible to vote for the Indian resolution. While expressing the opinion that the Russian amendments5 to this resolution were really a separate resolution, rather than amendments, he felt that there would be no point in getting into a procedural wrangle on the matter. He, therefore, suggested that these amendments come to a vote before the Indian resolution when they could be decisively defeated. He then inquired of Amb. Muniz regarding his views on the matter. Muniz agreed that it would probably be best to avoid a procedural wrangle by bringing the amendments to a vote and getting them out of the way as soon as possible.

The Secretary then went on to say that the remaining Soviet resolutions6 could thereafter be voted down with equal facility. As regards the 21-power resolution, he expressed the opinion that it might be considered desirable after consultation with the co-sponsors to have it withdrawn. The Iraqi resolution,7 he stated, did not constitute a problem and would not require serious consideration. Its amendment of [Page 696] Paragraph 17 had already been taken care of by the latest change in the Indian resolution while its advocacy of India as umpire of the Repatriation Commission was reliably understood to be opposed by the Indian Delegation. He felt that for these reasons it was most likely that the Iraqi resolution would be withdrawn. This then left the Mexican and Peruvian resolutions8 which he felt could serve a most useful purpose in consideration by the body selected by the United Nations to handle the prisoners and their eventual disposition. He remarked that such a body would inevitably be faced with the problem in view of the probable failure of the Political Conference to solve it.

The meeting was then thrown open to discussion. Amb. Molino (Panama) inquired whether the 120 or 150-day period of consideration prior to reference to the United Nations would date from the target date mentioned in Paragraph 17 of the Indian resolution, and wanted to know when fighting would cease if the resolution were accepted. The Secretary replied that this period would commence upon signature of the armistice agreement and that in accordance with the draft armistice agreement fighting would cease within a few days after signature.

Amb. Londono Placios (Colombia) inquired whether Article 14 of the Indian resolution clearly provided that the selection of the umpire for the Repatriation Commission would be made by the General Assembly in the event that the Commission itself could not reach a decision. The Secretary responded that the effect of Article 14 as now drafted was to make this possible. Amb. Urquia (El Salvador) questioned the wisdom of the “new language” in the last preambular paragraph of the Indian resolution calling upon the Chinese Communist and North Korean authorities to make a direct response to the General Assembly on their reactions to the resolution. The Secretary stated that their reaction would be made known to the President of the General Assembly who would then inform that body. He pointed out that the President of the General Assembly was called upon to bring the proposals contained in the Indian resolution to the attention of the North Korean and Chinese Communist Governments, and to report back to the Assembly their responses. It was then ascertained that Urquia’s query was due to an error in Spanish translation. This gave rise to a diatribe on the inadequacies of the Secretariat with regard to Spanish translation and to the corresponding necessity for making Spanish a working language. A budding debate on this subject was checked by Dr. Carias’ appeal to confine comments to the Korean problem.

Urquia then inquired why the Indian resolution was to be brought to the attention only of the Chinese Communists and of the North Koreans and not of the South Koreans who were also belligerents. The Secretary responded that the position already adopted by the Syngman [Page 697] Rhee Government would force it to reject the proposals. This was due to internal political factors but the Rhee Government was cooperating with and fighting under the United Nations Command. The Secretary thought it best not to place the Republic of Korea in the position of joining the Communists in turning down the Indian resolution.

Urquia also questioned the desirability of allowing the Soviets to capitalize on the propaganda value of forcing the United Nations to reject the concept of a cease-fire due to prior consideration of the Soviet amendment. He felt that such rejection would steal the headlines and lessen the moral impact of the subsequently-approved Indian resolution. He added that some delegations would find it difficult to vote against a cease-fire. Amb. Lea Plaza (Chile) agreed with Urquia and suggested that the Soviet amendment be divided into two parts for separate votes—the cease-fire could be voted upon favorably by the United Nations while provisions for the suggested commission could be decisively rejected after which the amendment as a whole could be voted down. The Secretary responded that the Communists had, since the inception of the armistice conversation, continually tried to reach agreement on a cease-fire to be followed by the negotiation of the substantive proposals involved. This he described as the core of Communist policy which had been consistently and repeatedly rejected by the UNC for the reason that such action would serve only to give the Communists time to prepare for attack if the negotiations should fail. This conflict of views had already been so highly publicized and was so well known throughout the world that the Communists could not, in the Secretary’s opinion, derive any real advantages from United Nations rejection of the cease-fire amendment. Urquia agreed with the Secretary’s views but suggested that whatever propaganda advantages there might be should be minimized by explanations of the adverse votes on cease-fire. The Secretary agreed on the soundness of Urquia’s suggestion, and observed that the debate on the 5th preambular paragraph of the Indian resolution would offer the opportunity for such clarification since the paragraph emphasized a cease-fire.

In response to the Secretary’s suggestion that the Peruvian and Mexican resolution might be withdrawn for possible later utilization in the placement of the POW’s, Belaunde replied that he was “inclined” toward withdrawing his resolution. He was always ready to help and would therefore put the decision on the point in the hands of his colleagues.

Amb. Padilla Nervo (Mexico), who translated for himself, admitted that he had originally advocated support of an unamended Indian resolution in the belief that India would not accept changes and that any subchanges would damn the resolution in the eyes of the Chinese Communists. He was pleased over the manner in which the Indian Delegation had by itself amended its resolution to the satisfaction of all concerned. [Page 698] He remarked that he did not look upon his resolution as merely a demographic solution to the POW problem and that he preferred to let it stand as a possible basis of agreement with the Communists. He felt that its ultimate disposition could be decided by subsequent developments. The Secretary agreed. Belaunde then hedged on his original offer to withdraw the Peruvian resolution with the statement that it might be desirable to hold it in abeyance. He admitted that all but a very small part of his resolution had already been covered in the Indian resolution but felt that even the small remaining part might be of assistance in the future. The Secretary agreed.

The Secretary terminated the session by thanking the Latin American Delegates again for their cooperation. He described his relationship with some of them during his many years with the Department of State as a great experience. He said that it would probably be the last time he would meet with the Latin Americans as he expected to leave for Europe within a few days and to leave the Department of State shortly thereafter. He hoped that when visiting the various Latin American countries in the future, as a tourist, they would remember his name. There was considerable applause and handshaking.

Carias remarked, as the Secretary was leaving, that Amb. Blanco (Cuba) had been selected by the caucus as the Latin American choice for a seat on the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.

  1. Maurice M. Bernbaum was also Officer in Charge of North and West Coast Affairs in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, Department of State.
  2. Tiburico Carias, Representative of Honduras.
  3. For the text of this amendment, see UN document A/C.1/L.5.
  4. João Carlos Muñiz of Brazil, Chairman of the First Committee.
  5. The effect of the Soviet amendments was to eliminate the operative paragraphs of the revised Indian draft resolution and replace them with a resolution which proposed, inter alia, an immediate cease-fire on the basis of the draft armistice agreement already agreed to by the belligerents and referral of the question of repatriation of POWs to a commission composed of representatives of the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France, People’s Republic of China, India, Burma, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, and South Korea. For a text of the amendments, see UN document A/C.1/L.4.
  6. For a text, see UN documents A/C.1.729/Rev.1/Corr.1 and Rev.1/Corr.1/Add.1.
  7. For text, see UN document A/C.1/L.3.
  8. For texts, see UN documents A/C.1/730 and A/C.1/732.