751G.00/5–2354: Telegram

SmithMolotov Meeting, Geneva, May 22, Evening: The United States Delegation to the Department of State 1

top secret

Dulte 101. Repeated information Moscow 82. Moscow eyes only Ambassador. S/S limit distribution. At Molotov’s invitation, Robertson, Phleger, Johnson, Reinhardt, and I dined last night at his house. We were cordially received and the atmosphere during dinner was reminiscent of the days toward the end of the honeymoon period. After dinner Robertson and I were steered into a room with Molotov, Gromyko, Zarubin, and Troyanovsky. The others were, by clearly calculated arrangement, conducted into another room, where they could hear only snatches of our conversation. Molotov was completely relaxed, quite friendly, and objective.

He began the conversation with a few remarks about the conference and led immediately into Indochina, asking me for my view of the situation as it existed in the separate states. I replied that as I had stated in the closed sessions of our conference, we believed the situation in Vietnam to be quite different from that which existed in Laos and Cambodia. In Vietnam we recognized that the forces of Ho Chi Minh were well organized, disciplined, formidable, and controlled a considerable portion of the territory of the country. Here, it was our feeling that where two completely hostile ideologies were in serious conflict there would have to be some sort of separation in the form of [Page 896] an armistice and a withdrawal of the regular contingents to specified areas with probably prolonged discussions leading toward a political settlement, all under supervision of some genuinely neutral authority. With respect to Cambodia and Laos, the situation was entirely different. Our information was good and we were convinced that the statements made by the representatives of the Cambodian and Laotian Governments were substantially correct. I had, I stated, on our staff, officers who had visited all parts of both Laos and Cambodia and who were able from personal observation to confirm the fact that in both states the dissident elements were not indigenous and controlled very little, if any, of the country. Molotov replied that he agreed generally with regard to Vietnam, and he also agreed that there was a great difference in the problem of Vietnam as against that of Cambodia and Laos. However, he said, from what information he had, which was not very complete, he had arrived at the impression that the governments of the two countries actually controlled only about half of their territory, and that all of their troubles were not by any means due to external causes. I replied that apparently our information was different, and how did he suggest the question be resolved? He said that this was difficult, and repeated that he was inclined to the view that the governments of both states were weak and really controlled only about half of their respective territories. I said that there was one way of finding out and that was to have an inspection made by a genuinely neutral committee who could determine the real facts. Molotov said it would hardly be possible to do this during the period of our conference, but that the matter must of course be resolved. He then repeated that he did not challenge the fact that the problems were considerably different. There was a good deal of discussion of this subject, during all of which Molotov took the same apparently detached and objective position. It is our view that he visualizes the solution lying in some form of a cease-fire operation which would ultimately divide Vietnam, but he did not object when I remarked that the conditions in Cambodia and Laos were not such as to justify even considering slicing off pieces of their territory to provide for the concentration of dissident elements. He said that we were not making much progress in the conference and he thought it might be advisable to have the parties most concerned, namely, the French, Vietnamese and Viet Minh, meet and see if they could not come to some solution among themselves which they could present to the conference. I said I did not know how the French would react to this; that I could not recommend it to the French, but that I would not oppose it. Our position here with regard to Indochina was different from Korea. We wanted to be helpful. We were not a belligerent, although we were assisting France and the Associated States with money and equipment. Our interest was great [Page 897] as France was our ally, and Britain, another ally, was in Malaya. Also we had a treaty with the Philippines, where we had a special interest. Molotov said he understood this, but there were reports that US did not want fighting to stop. I said thing we wanted most was an honorable cessation of hostilities, on just terms, but we would not associate ourselves with any capitulation to what we believed to be aggression.

I then mentioned Korea, pointing out that discussion in plenary session today had again emphasized deep cleavage and bitterness of feeling between North and South Korea. Molotov agreed and said that this was obviously a matter which would require a great deal of time to produce a solution. He thought that political settlement in Korea would come about possibly as a result of some years of living together. I mentioned a recent statement of Nehru’s, saying that while I did not by any means subscribe to most of his statements, his recent one regarding Korea had interested me. Mr. Nehru, I understood, had said, in effect, that he did not expect a political solution for Korea to arise from Geneva conference, but that it might be that some loose association as a result of trading together would, after a period of time, reduce the tension and produce some form of agreement. The interpretation I gave this was, I now understand, a good deal different from what Nehru actually proposed. Molotov repeated that a period of “living together” and some form of commercial or other contact over a period of time might reduce the bitterness and permit some political solution. He obviously expects none here.

The conversation then passed to the subject of our general relationship, and via that, to China. I said that I believed, with regard to the Soviet Union, as I expected Mr. Molotov to believe with regard to the United States, that we genuinely desired peace. We had come, I hoped correctly, to think in the United States that although we went through periods of public name-calling, we could, in the last analysis, sit down at the conference table with the Soviet Union and work out some form of solution for our major problems. We did not have this same feeling about some of their associates; we had sensed a lack of restraint and an intransigence which caused us grave concern. Molotov looked up immediately at me and said China. I said yes, China. Well, he said, you must remember that China is still a very young country, and you must also remember that China is always going to be China, she is never going to be European. The Soviet Union, he went on, had worked out a relationship with Communist China. I should also remember that we had done a good many things to irritate Communist China and cause them difficulties. I replied that the Soviet Union and Communist China had one point in common, they had a common political ideology which made it easier for them to arrive at common [Page 898] understandings. We did not share that common ideology with Communist China. Molotov said that, in effect, we weren’t the only ones that are worried, the Soviet Union would like to devote all of its time and resources to improving its internal situation, but from time to time events took place which made it necessary for them to realize that they would have to devote their attention and resources to matters outside their borders. He said China was only five years old and she also needed time to devote her attention and resources to her internal problems. I said that President Eisenhower believed in world trade but the Chinese made any contact impossible. He said there was a great deal in our attitude which gave the Soviets ground for serious thought. Here he groped for a word to imply hostility or aggressiveness without being discourteous. I supplied the word and said we sensed the same attitude in the Soviet Union. The question which concerned us both was war or peace, and if there was any doubt in his mind as to the pacific intentions of the United States, I would demonstrate to him that they were unfounded. We had intervened in Korea as a result of deep-rooted moral principles. When we reversed the situation and the Chinese Communists intervened, we could have dealt with Communist China without difficulty had we been willing to go into general mobilization and use all of the resources at our disposal. We had not done so, and had taken thousands of casualties rather than commit the full prestige of the United States and possibly that of the Soviet Union in an issue which would have involved broadening the conflict and possibly brought on global war. I would remind him of the first official conversation that I had when I arrived in Moscow, and suggested that when he returned he get out a memo of that conversation and re-read it. He said he recalled it. I then said that he would also recall that I told him at that time that there was a line beyond which compromise could not go; that we were willing to reach honorable compromise, but compromise was a two-way street and we would not abandon our principles. He replied in a perfectly friendly way that he understood, and again he said that China was a very young country. He also said, and this is very interesting, that it will become known some day that in the Korean matter the Soviet Union had acted as a restraining influence. He repeated that we had done some things to irritate Communist China. Robertson said that the Chinese Communists had done many things to irritate US, one illustration of which was the matter of American citizens and air force personnel, none guilty of any crimes, now imprisoned, and also those unable to get exit visas.2 Some of these people had died in prison, and they have been mistreated. Molotov obviously was completely informed in the matter. [Page 899] He at once replied that there were some Chinese students in the United States who had been unable to leave. Robertson said that this was correct, but they were neither imprisoned nor ill treated, and that under proper arrangements they could be permitted to go. Molotov said he saw no reason why a matter of this kind could not be very readily adjusted. I said that although the number involved was few, incidents like this made it almost impossible even to consider moving close toward an understanding. The American people reacted very strongly to what they considered unjust or inhumane treatment—that they would take hundreds of casualties, but that they would never abandon efforts to obtain the release of one single prisoner. Molotov again said that this should be easily resolved. He went on to say that the Soviet Union, along with US, had for a long time done all it could do to uphold Chiang Kai-shek, and had only abandoned him when further support became completely impracticable. Neither Robertson nor I felt there was any purpose in replying to this comment.

Robertson remarked at this point that he had heard much said here about Colonialism. This was no longer an issue. Britain had given complete freedom to India, Pakistan, Burma, et cetera, and Holland to Indonesia. Our record re the Philippines was well known. We were perfectly willing and should be able to live at peace with people of a different political ideology, but it ought to be recognized that our differences were not Colonialism but ideological. Molotov replied that this was so.

The thing that impressed me most last night was the difference in Molotov’s attitude now from what it was when Stalin was alive. He went further, was much more frank, made no charges, by implication or otherwise, no recriminations, and it was as though he were looking at the whole situation through a magnifying glass and analyzing its various aspects. There is apparent much greater self-confidence and authority. It is interesting that Molotov, having toasted every one of his guests, then proposed a toast to the heads of our respective states, “the President of the United States, General Eisenhower, and the President of the Supreme Soviet, Marshal Voroshilov”. This is the first time I ever heard such a toast given by a top Communist official which placed the President of the Supreme Soviet in the position of head of the state. Molotov also commented again on your departure from Geneva and asked again how long I would be here. I said my movements depended on his decisions. We had gone to Panmunjom expecting to stay three weeks, and had stayed 27 months. If we did not complicate the problems of Laos and Cambodia, it should not take too long.

  1. Transmitted in three sections. Memorandum of conversation of this meeting, May 23, is in Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 289.

    In Tedul 119, May 24, the Secretary of State replied that he was “Much interested your Dulte 101 and am transmitting textually to President.” (751G.00/5–2354) In a memorandum to the President, May 24, transmitting the telegram, the Secretary commented that “Molotov’s attitude, as described, conforms generally with that which I found in Berlin, and which appeared from the two talks I had with Molotov at Geneva. However, in this case, there is a good deal more detailed discussion of China and Indochina than has heretofore taken place between us.” (Eisenhower Library, Dulles papers, “1951–1959, Korea-Political Conference, Geneva, 1954”)

  2. For documentation on this issue, see volume xiv .