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



  • Greater Sanctions Statement


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

Mr. Tomlinson called on instructions from the Foreign Office and left with me the attached “bout de papier”.2 I checked with Mr. Tomlinson my understanding that the UK was in effect withdrawing its agreement to the Greater Sanctions statement and asserting that whether a statement should be made and what it should contain should be decided following an armistice in the light of the circumstances then prevailing. Mr. Tomlinson confirmed that this understanding was correct. Mr. Tomlinson said that as he understands his Government’s position it is that as fifteen months have passed since agreement to issue the statement was made it ought to be looked at again in the light of new circumstances. That does not mean necessarily that there should be no statement, but that question should be left open until the armistice is signed or at least until shortly before then, and examined anew. Asked for the reason for this change in the UK position, Mr. Tomlinson stated that the Foreign Office had offered no explanation. His personal estimate was that in the context of the Soviet Peace Offensive, it was felt that a warning statement following an armistice would strike a jarring note and, particularly in contrast with Soviet peace talk, would provide [Page 969] ammunition for the Soviet line that the allies were belligerent and “war-mongering”.

I told Mr. Tomlinson that this communication from his Government was seriously disturbing. I reminded him that we had made a concession on the airfields question solely in reliance on the Greater Sanctions Statement. I recalled that we had reached agreement on the text and on the mechanics for the prompt issuance of the statement after much effort. I said that I was extremely reluctant to have to go to our military authorities to inform them that there is doubt whether the Greater Sanctions Statement could be issued. They will undoubtedly take the position, I said, that we would have to take a new look at the airfields issue if there is to be any shakiness about our ability to issue the statement promptly following an armistice.

I pointed out to Mr. Tomlinson that in view of the leaks that had occurred in regard to this statement the Communists were probably expecting it by now and that failure to issue it might be considered by them quite significant and a sign of weakness inviting new aggression. Also, if the statement were issued promptly upon an armistice the adverse propaganda effect which Mr. Churchill apparently feared would be dissipated in the public elation over an armistice. To issue a warning statement sometime later might in fact have an undesirable effect. Mr. Tomlinson ventured a suggestion that the statement might be made privately, but we did not explore this suggestion.

I emphasized again to Mr. Tomlinson the gravity with which we viewed the change in the UK position. I told him that so far as we were concerned we considered that a firm agreement had been reached by the 16 Powers and that this agreement remained in effect until superseded by some new agreement. Mr. Tomlinson stated that as he understood his Foreign Office message Mr. Churchill had in fact decided unilaterally to withdraw from the agreement. Mr. Tomlinson said that he would of course convey our reactions and views to his Foreign Office.

  1. This memorandum was drafted by Henkin and initialed by Johnson.
  2. In the “bout de papier”, which was attached to the source text, the British Government stated that much could happen before an armistice was achieved and the conditions and atmosphere under which it would be signed could well be different from expectations held when the warning statement was originally prepared. In these circumstances, it was Churchill’s view that the right time to decide whether a warning statement should be issued and on what terms was immediately after an armistice was signed.