27. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, January 21, 1955, 10:30 a.m.1


  • The Secretary
  • Sir Roger Makins, British Ambassador
  • Sir Robert Scott, British Minister
  • Mr. RobertsonFE
  • Mr. MerchantEUR

At the outset the Secretary informed the British Ambassador that he had presented the views of the British Government to the President before the NSC meeting this morning. He said that at the [Page 97] NSC meeting it was agreed that there would be no statement publicly made regarding the intentions of the United States with respect to Quemoy and the Matsu Islands. The Secretary said that the President intends to go before Congress on Monday to ask for Congressional authority for the limited use of United States military forces. At this point the Secretary read certain key paragraphs from the President’s draft message2 (warning that this text could not be regarded as final but could be accepted as indicating the general approach).

The points in the message specifically elaborated on by the Secretary were (1) the statement regarding our intention to assist the Chinese Nationalists to regroup their forces the better to defend Formosa; (2) the statement regarding the matter of further authority to strike at forces patently grouped for an attack against Formosa; (3) the statement to the effect that it was not being suggested that the treaty area of our defensive concern was being enlarged; and (4) the reference to the fact that the United States would welcome action by the United Nations which would moderate or eliminate the existing danger.

The Secretary then went on to say that the NSC had adopted as a policy (which would not be made public at this time) the need for preparedness to act against the mainland in the event of concentrations directed at Formosa. The Secretary emphasized that it was our intention to try to avoid any action against the mainland during the period in which the United Nations might be making a serious effort to settle the difficulty. He said that obviously no absolute promise could be given with respect to such restraint.

Finally the Secretary said that he hoped the British Government would consider that we had substantially met the points which they had raised and that it would thereby be enabled promptly to support Oracle.

The Secretary then said that he desired to comment on one sentence (“This is on the understanding that the final objective is to work slowly towards a state of affairs in which Formosa and the Pescadores are protected from attack, and at the same time, restrained from launching attacks; while the importance of the offshore islands steadily diminishes and they are finally allowed to pass to the control of the mainland government.”) contained in the Ambassador’s letter of January [21] just delivered to him (attached).3 He said that [Page 98] he could not accept or give any commitment with respect to the reference that the offshore islands should finally be allowed to pass to the control of the mainland government. He said whereas this might be in the British minds it definitely was not in ours. He said that major problems such as the difficulty over the Saar frequently could diminish in importance if they were considered and settled in a larger context, e.g., a close rapprochement of Germany and France. Accordingly he accepted the possibility that the offshore islands which now constitute so dangerous an area might diminish in importance if the larger issues surrounding them could be eased or settled.

The British Ambassador then thanked the Secretary for the information he had just been given. He said that in his personal opinion he believed we have met in substance the British position and that our approach was moderate. He promised to recommend to his government that we move ahead promptly on Oracle.4

Sir Robert Scott then injected the thought that if Oracle is to have a chance to succeed the Communists themselves must give it a fair wind.

The Secretary replied that we would do our best to allay Nationalist activities while the UN was seized with the matter but there was the matter of reciprocity and obviously they could not be inactive in the face of stepped-up Communist attacks. Reference was made to the sinking of a small British ship in recent days by Nationalist bomber attacks on Swatow harbor. The Secretary said that it was his impression that the ship was owned by the Communists but under British registry. The British Ambassador said he thought it was under charter to Chinese Communists and indicated that this matter [Page 99] should not be too important though no doubt he will be instructed to protest.

The Secretary then read a short extract from a cable just received from Ambassador Rankin5 indicating that the Chinese Nationalists feared that there was a connection between the Hammarskjold efforts to secure the release of our airmen and the projected evacuation of the Tachens.

The British Ambassador then raised on a personal basis the question of what might be done in the way of talking plainly to Moscow and Peiping at the time Oracle was initiated. The Secretary confined himself to saying that we were planning to inform Ambassador Bohlen in Moscow fully on the situation and our intended actions so that as occasion warranted he could inform the Soviet Government.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/1–2155. Top Secret. Drafted by Merchant. Nonsubstantive revisions in Secretary Dulles’ handwriting appear on the source text.
  2. Apparently a revision of the draft printed as Document 24.
  3. Not attached to the source text. The substantive part of the letter reads as follows:

    “I have had further word from London about the situation in the Formosa Straits.

    “The position of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom is that they are ready (subject to New Zealand agreement) to support immediate action in the Security Council on lines already agreed, if the United States Government is prepared to withhold any promise of help in the defence of Quemoy until the results of the action in the Security Council are known.

    “This is on the understanding that the final objective is to work slowly towards a state of affairs in which Formosa and the Pescadores are protected from attack, and at the same time, restrained from launching attacks; while the importance of the offshore islands steadily diminishes and they are finally allowed to pass to the control of the mainland government.

    “In making this statement Her Majesty’s Government are not committed to participate in any action, however provisional, to guarantee any of the coastal islands after the results of the Security Council action are known.” (Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/1–2155)

  4. A letter of January 20 from Scott to Dulles states:

    Sir Anthony Eden is willing despite the risks inherent in the situation to go ahead with the Security Council operation as soon as possible, though he doubts whether all the preparatory work can be completed by Tuesday January 25th. He suggests that a working party should meet at once here in Washington to complete the preparations.

    “He stresses that if the exercise is to succeed both sides should be urged to exercise great restraint.

    “He is meanwhile informing Mr. Nehru in strictest confidence of the action proposed.” (Ibid., ROC Files: Lot 71 D 517, 1954–1955, Offshore Islands)

  5. Telegram 474 from Taipei, January 21, reported that U.S. proposals given to Yeh by Dulles had been considered at Cabinet-level meetings that day and that a telegram to Yeh, in Chiang’s hands for approval, would accept the evacuation proposal “with reluctance” but oppose a cease-fire; questions which might be expected included whether or not the evacuation proposal had any connection with Hammarskjöld’s visit to Peking. (Ibid., Central Files, 793.00/1–2155)