48. Letter From the United Nations Secretary-General (Hammarskjöld) to the Secretary of State1

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I wish to thank you for our talk last week.2 I feel that it was useful to have had this off-the-cuff report on the Peking talks on the table, although the limited time at our disposal made it impossible to analyze what had been said in such detail as it seems to merit. I regret especially that time did not suffice for an exchange of views of my ideas concerning the next steps or for a discussion of our relationship in this matter as a basis for the necessary co-operation in the follow-up, from my side, of the negotiations.

The weakness represented by the fact that we have not had such a discussion has become increasingly apparent to me in the week that has passed since our talk. I would, in all frankness, like to explain to you this reaction.

In view of the possible essential link which exists between the release of the prisoners and the visit of the families, I feel that we went very far in risk-taking by handling the visit question in the way we did up to last Friday.3 From another point of view it may be said that I, as Secretary-General, was balancing on the outer margin of the permissible in trying to make the issue more manageable for you. At the time of publication it was essential to put the responsibility for the offer squarely on the shoulders of Chou En-lai, while at the same time not giving any impression of double-crossing him. That I think we achieved in two ways: by indicating clearly that our news release4 was only a confirmation of Chou’s statement and by not releasing our communiqué until Peking was already on the air. As I have written to Ambassador Lodge, I was most surprised to see that this handling of the matter—which I considered to be directly in [Page 150] the interest of the United States and in conformity with the objectives agreed upon in our talks—was criticized in terms of unusual strength. On the other hand, I was concerned when I saw that comments from the State Department5 were such as to present the Chinese initiative—which, in my view, should be handled with the utmost care as a possible bridge to solutions—as if it had been nothing but a propaganda move. Finally—again to my concern—I was informed yesterday that the United States Government does not intend to issue exit permits for the families’ visits.6

Without now entering upon the substance, I must confess that I am worried when, in this way, I see issues which may be vital to the further negotiations, handled and settled without any consultation with the negotiator himself. This operation is, under all the circumstances, most difficult and delicate.

Due to questions raised by delegations other than yours, I Have been able to follow from a distance the discussion concerning the Formosa problem, especially as it relates to the United Nations. In view of my exposed position in the negotiations concerning the fliers, I have preferred to stand aside for the time being and have not myself put any questions to the United States Mission or to any other government representatives. I have, however, expressed the hope that if any action were taken, it would not be given such a form as to turn the Security Council operation into something which would widen the gulf between East and West as it would do, for example, if a proposed solution were so phrased as to make unavoidable a Soviet veto. I have also expressed the hope that if any action were taken it would be such as to give some momentum to the developments which may arise out of the prisoner talks in Peking. In view of the vital importance of this whole issue to peace, and more specifically to the United Nations efforts to achieve peace, I would, under all the circumstances, have regarded it as natural if some contact had been established with the Secretary-General. As matters now stand, when the Secretary-General has a more direct impression of the Chinese aspect of the problem than anybody else in the West, [Page 151] and, furthermore, is himself already in a certain sense a party as he is negotiating with China at the request of the General Assembly, this view is reinforced. It is obviously for the Governments to decide how they will act, but it seems to me that their decisions should take into account also such aspects of the problem as, in this case, could have been represented by the Secretary-General.

The two points I raise here serve to illustrate what I said in the beginning: I regret that time last Wednesday did not suffice for mutual exploration of lines of action. I hope that it will be possible to engage in such an exploration and to work more closely together in the future. Else I, as Secretary-General, will find it very difficult to serve the member nations in the way which would be possible on a basis of continued and open contact on those issues where the Secretary-General necessarily must have a special responsibility.

Yours sincerely,

Dag Hammarskjold
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, WangJohnson Talks. Top Secret; Eyes Only. The classification was apparently added after the letter reached the Department of State.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 18.
  3. January 21.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 14.
  5. For text of a statement made to correspondents by Department of State spokesman Henry Suydam on January 21, see Department of State Bulletin, January 31, 1955, p. 192.
  6. A memorandum of a meeting in the Secretary’s office on this subject on January 25 states, “The Secretary thought that Chou’s statement yesterday, the general uncertainty of the situation in the area, the possibility that the families themselves might be held by the Chinese Communists now made it inadvisable to issue passports. He believed the President would concur.” (Unsigned memorandum for the record, January 25, 1955; Department of State, Central Files, 611.95A241/1–2555) The text of a letter dated January 27 from Secretary Dulles to the families of the imprisoned airmen, stating that the government had concluded that “it would be imprudent for the time being to issue passports valid for travel to Communist China to any American citizens” is in Department of State Bulletin, February 7, 1955, p. 214.