33. Telegram From the Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Bohlen) to the Department of State1

1152. For the Secretary. London for the Ambassador. At certain time and under certain conditions an approach to Soviet Government on question could be useful and at any rate could do no harm if only for record. However, I believe any such approach must make absolutely clear US position in re to offshore islands and I do not see this clarity in the contents of proposed approach (Deptels 576 and 577).2 Offshore islands are chief issue since I am convinced, particularly after signature treaty with Chinese Nationalist Government, there can be no doubt in Soviet mind concerning US intention to defend Formosa and Pescadores in event of attack. Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Deptel 576 could be read to indicate that US would be prepared to use military force in defense of offshore islands as logical extension its commitment to defend Formosa. Paragraph 3 raises in very general form question of withdrawal Nationalist forces from “certain” offshore islands with US assistance if requested by Nationalist China. Paragraphs 4 and 5 do not make clear exactly what action it will be suggested that UN take to put an end to active hostilities in the area. Thus points listed do not make clear whether chief purpose of statement is to warn that US will use its own forces in relation to Communist attacks on offshore islands or whether emphasis should be on withdrawal Chinese Nationalist forces from some of them.

I fully realize complexity and delicacy of these questions and the psychological and political factors involved. I fear, however, approach along lines indicated would not have best chance of producing result desired—namely, exercise of Soviet influence as restraining factor on Communist Chinese—unless greater clarity can be introduced in re to US position on offshore islands question. It may well be that it is impossible to give definite answer on this point at this time, in which case I would suggest that any approach to Soviets be deferred until we have determined (a) whether Chinese Nationalist Government is in effect preparing to request US assistance in withdrawal from certain of the islands, and (b) exactly what islands are involved.

Another possibility would be to confine approach to Soviets merely to request contained in paragraph 5: i.e., that Chinese Communists refrain from military action in Formosan Straits while matter under UN consideration. This, however, to be effective, would involve [Page 115] our ability to give similar assurances on behalf Chinese Nationalists which is not specifically indicated or authorized in telegram under reference. Exact question of withdrawal and regrouping of Nationalist forces would thus be avoided and left for development during course of UN consideration.

It is not necessary in all cases to dot all I’s for Soviets who are reasonably quick to understand in some matters, but where issues involve territory of any kind and either its defense or relinquishment, clarity is important and even essential. I am sure that Molotov would ask me questions on offshore islands which under present suggestion I would be unable to answer and thereby leave with him impression that our approach was simply maneuver and not the serious attempt to restore peace in Formosa area which it is.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/1–2355. Top Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Repeated for information to London for Ambassador Aldrich.
  2. See Document 31 and footnote 2 thereto.
  3. Telegram 579 to Moscow, January 24, personally signed by Dulles, states: “I am inclined to agree reasoning expressed your 1152 and accordingly have decided that no approach be made to Soviets re Formosa at this time.” (Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/1–2355)