789. Letter 54 from Johnson to McConaughy1

Letter No. 54
Dear Walter:
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I received your letter sent to Prague enclosing the O’Neill-Huang Hua December 28 interview and the material on Wirin’s travel before I left. Yesterday I also received your February 11 letter. (Fast service!) Thanks very much for both of them.

I talked with Gowen and he has agreed also to loan me Popper. He sent a telegram on this last night. I am sending you a telegram today on the contract employment of a secretary to replace Helenka. I had hoped I could use Popper’s secretary who previously worked for me but she is going on leave shortly and I did not want to strain the office here by [Typeset Page 1326] asking them also to furnish a secretary. In any event, I think that the FE budget is now getting off very easily.

As you know, I know and respect Dave Popper tremendously, but he, of course, simply does not have the specialized FE experience that would be most useful to me. He also has more than a full time job here with not much time to devote to this and the office needs him badly in many ways. I therefore hope that we can shortly shake Ed Martin or someone else loose before long. Dave Osborn has some ideas he will discuss with you.

I have been hit hard here by the press, particularly the New York Times, on the Secretary’s February 5 statement on the newsmen and the Americans, wanting to know exactly how and when the Chicoms made the proposition. I have, of course, said nothing except to point out our often reiterated statements that the Chicoms were holding [Facsimile Page 2] the Americans as political hostages.

In this regard there is, of course, no specific statement in the record. The most specific statements are, as you have noted, those on the “state of relations” which he long ago dropped when he saw the box into which it had placed him.

Since his last “state of relations” statement on September 28, 1955 there are only a few relatively obscure statements bearing on this that I have been able to recall or Dave has been able to find. At the 56th meeting (para 16) I picked up his remark (para 15) that a “reasonable solution (on trade) would contribute to resolution other disputes”, but he sidestepped. At the 63rd meeting (para 6) he said “if U.S. had genuine desire resolve problems it should make progress in second item agenda”. Both of these are very tenuous and only have any meaning at all within context.

You will recall that in accordance with my original basic instructions, at our first dinner (Mytel 585 Aug. 23, 1955) I inferentially brought up the possibility of visitors after all Americans were released, and at our second dinner (Mytel 642 August 29, 1955) made this somewhat more specific with respect to correspondents. I cannot recall that the subject again came up until the Chicoms issued their invitations to correspondents last August and at the 55th meeting I gave him a copy of our August 7 press release emphasizing the last paragraph (para 14 Mytel 135 and Wang’s reply in para 19). At the 58th meeting he introduced the cultural exchange proposal and I made preliminary comments (paras 11 and 12 Mytel 303) on which I expanded at the 59th meeting.

Thus, while he took the initiative in raising “state of relations” as a factor in the timing of the release of Americans I took the initiative in specifically relating the travel of correspondents to their release. He has always been very careful not to be specific as to exactly what he meant [Typeset Page 1327] by “state of relations” and although I have not the slightest doubt that they would have considered our permitting correspondents to travel to mainland China as a step toward “improvement of relations” I cannot point to any specific statement that says this. However, I have always [Facsimile Page 3] felt that they would consider travel of correspondents as only one factor in “improving relations” sufficiently to release all of the Americans. That is, I have never felt that they had in mind releasing all of the Americans in exchange for the travel of correspondents, although, as you know, I felt it might produce the release of a few. I have not gone back over all my messages in this regard, but I regret if I misled you or the Secretary in any way on this.

While there was nothing new in today’s meeting I think that you will find much of it very interesting reading. (Incidentally I am sending it by cable as there is no courier from here until Sunday which would mean almost a week until you received it.)

You will see that he more thoroughly developed the theme of U.S. “hostility”, pressure, etc. than he ever has in the past. Throughout his presentation I could not but help think of Chou’s remark to [text not declassified] that the release of the Americans would be regarded as a confession of weakness. I think that that remark and Wang’s expansion on it today is the real key to their attitude. You know that I have long felt, and I continue to feel, that whatever other very useful and important purposes it may serve, the building up the issue of the release in fact works in the opposite direction. However, we are now so far down this road that I see no choice but to continue what we are doing. They have, of course, behaved very stupidly. The Agreed Announcement gave them a perfect back-drop against which to release them and they would, in fact, have gained enormously if they had done so. I am amazed that they did not have the intelligence to see it. It only goes to prove that they are not “eight feet tall”. However, they have now got themselves in such a box on this that they could not do so even if they desired.

I greatly appreciated Walter having spoken to the Secretary and having obtained a re-confirmation of his desires. I am, of course, willing to go on as long as it is thought to be useful. I just wanted to make sure that this was the case. I do well see and appreciate the objectives, and will try to carry them out the best I can.

Incidentally, I have just realized that the material on missing Air Force personnel forwarded us in June has not, at least technically, been declassified. Paragraph 2 of Deptel 736 declassified the material sent me with [Facsimile Page 4] your letter of December 7. However, as the Air Force material had been sent to us previously this does not cover that. Will you confirm to me whether I can also consider it declassified so that I can use it as occasion arises.

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Pat arrived this morning just as I was leaving for the meeting. Haven’t had a chance really to talk with her yet.

Regards to all.


U. Alexis Johnson
American Ambassador
  1. Source: Department of State, Geneva Talks Files, Lot 72D415. Secret; Official–Informal. Johnson signed the original “Alex.”