783. Letter 64 from McConaughy to Johnson1

Letter No. 64
Dear Alex:
[Facsimile Page 1]

1. Your letter No. 53 of January 19 came January 24 and has been read by Messrs. Robertson, Phleger and Sebald. All of us sympathize with you in the frustrating and exasperating position in which you find yourself, with the talks apparently leading nowhere and dragging on indefinitely with the same tired points being reworked ad infinitum and ad nauseam at every meeting. Undoubtedly it is difficult for the man who is on the scene and who is carrying the chief burden to see the further utility of the exercise. However the talks are precisely fulfilling the primary purpose envisaged by the Secretary in 1955. Mr. Robertson told him yesterday about your letter including the question you had raised about the desirability of prolonging the talks. The Secretary smilingly recalled that when he was giving you your instructions he had mentioned to you that you should be prepared to carry on the talks for two years. The Secretary said that you were handling the talks exactly in accordance with his wishes, and that the talks were serving the purpose he had in mind. He appreciated the difficulties you confront but his views as to the importance of the talks and the desirability of continuing them had not changed. He said that when the Middle East pressures subsided somewhat, he would be glad to review the matter and give careful attention to any arguments [Facsimile Page 2] against continuation of the talks which we might consider overriding. But as of now he felt the talks [Typeset Page 1316] should continue and that you should know that he approves the way in which you have conducted the talks.

Undoubtedly the talks continue to cause us some embarrassment, and lead to some misunderstanding of our posture vis-a-vis Communist China, especially in the Far East. Also the continuance of the talks makes it difficult for us to manifest the full extent of our dissatisfaction at Chinese Communist violation of the Agreed Announcement. On the other hand, we still have the Chinese Communists tied up in talks which may make it more difficult for them to start any hostilities in the Taiwan area. If they should initiate any such action while conversations are going on, the risk they would run of general world condemnation and possible multilateral sanctions against them would be appreciably increased. While the Chinese Communists obviously estimate at this stage that their interests are best served by continuing the talks, they are probably not happy over the negotiating situation in which they find themselves and would be delighted if we broke off the talks. An onus would attach to the side which took the initiative to break off the talks, and this the Chinese Communists want to avoid. We have them in a situation where they are on the defensive on both of the principal points at issue, and unable to improve their negotiating position. As one officer put it, if we broke off the talks now we would in a sense be letting the Chinese Communists off the hook and would be giving up just at a time when we for once are beating them at their own game by [Facsimile Page 3] out-sitting and out-talking them. As Mr. Phleger put it, “Alex is doing fine, and should carry on along the lines that he has already developed so well”. You don’t need to worry about repetition, or lack of new topics. It may be a dreary, boring business but it is serving a purpose which is more apparent here than it can be in the front line. The talks undoubtedly are reducing the pressures from European quarters for other U.S. contacts with the Chinese Communists and they make it much easier to refute the arguments advanced for a Foreign Minister level meeting.

2. We were quite interested in the record of the last meeting. Wang’s argumentation was of some significance, even though there was nothing new in it. It was all right to send the full report by pouch. It arrived in four days.

3. We were somewhat taken aback at the New York Times despatch of January 19 from Geneva quoting you as feeling that your negotiating position had been seriously weakened by the visits of the three newsmen to Communist China. While your negotiating position certainly was not helped by the visits, we do not see that it was helped by the public attribution of this feeling to you either.

4. We are sending you herewith a full report of O’Neill’s interview with Huang Hua on December 28, 1956. In this conversation, Huang Hua explicitly denies that the Agreed Announcement applies [Typeset Page 1317] to American prisoners. We anticipate that this will give you plenty of material for the February 14 meeting.

5. We released our statement on Chinese Communist failure to release [Facsimile Page 4] imprisoned Americans on January 29. A copy is enclosed for your files. We are also sending a copy to Osborn. We thought Chou En-lai’s statement in Nepal about a possible “exchange of prisoners” gave us a good occasion to issue the statement. However it has not received as much play in the press as we hoped for.

6. There has been a new development in the Powell case. Having been authorized by the judge to travel to Communist China as an officer of the court, leaving his passport in Hong Kong, the defense attorney, Wirin, now claims to have received a cable from his contact in Peiping stating that he will not be admitted without a validated passport and that the United States Government should communicate with the Chinese Communist authorities concerning his travel. (Copies of the defense motions are enclosed.) Wirin is reported to have mentioned orally to the judge that the Geneva talks would be a suitable channel for communicating with the Communists concerning his travel. The Department of Justice attorney who is handling the Washington end of the case informed us that the judge categorically turned down Wirin’s request for a court order that his passport be validated for travel to Communist China and North Korea. The judge said he had no authority to issue such an order. The judge is reportedly unsympathetic to Wirin’s latest gambit. He has asked that appropriate government authorities provide him with an affidavit setting forth the United States Government’s position with regard to the Chinese Communist and North Korean regimes, travel by Americans to those areas and the [Facsimile Page 5] facts concerning the Geneva talks. We are preparing material on these subjects for Justice, which will then prepare the affidavit. A hearing is set for February 2, when the judge will consider this information.

It seems clear that the Chinese Communists are using the Powell case as another lever to compel a change in our policy regarding travel to Mainland China. They probably feel that they are in a strong position in this case, since if the U.S. Government blocks Wirin’s travel to Communist China, there is a good chance that the case against the Powells will be dismissed. Thus, whichever way we move, the Communist movement would stand to gain. Peiping’s tactics in this case strongly suggest that they are not interested in utilizing the Powell case to revive the germ warfare charges against the U.S. If they were, they would certainly be more inclined to facilitate Wirin’s travel. Their propaganda, too, has supported this conclusion, since they have played up the Powell case as another attempt by the U.S. to persecute journalists who try to tell the truth about Communist China. Germ warfare has been barely mentioned. We are giving Justice the information we have on the various [Typeset Page 1318] efforts by Peiping to break down our passport policy, so that they can pass this background informally to the judge.

7. It now seems as if the passports of Stevens and Harrington of Look Magazine will be made valid only for return to the U.S. Action on Worthy will be withheld until we get a full report on his travel and the use he made of his passport.

8. It has been good to talk to Pat, and to get some further news [Facsimile Page 6] of you and your children through her. I wish you could join her here.

Regards and good wishes,


Walter P. McConaughy


Press release No. 43
O’Neill interview with Huang Hua, Dec. 28, 1956
Defense motions on Powell Case

  1. Source: Department of State, Geneva Talks Files, Lot 72D415. Secret; Official–Informal.