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164. Memorandum of a Conversation Between President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Nehru, The White House1

The President first asked him how his press conference had gone this morning; the Prime Minister said very well, and they discussed the mechanics for a moment or two.

The President said he had had a number of reports this morning from the Mid East, some were quite hopeful. Said our Ambassador2 had a long talk with Nasser and found him more flexible than formerly and more nearly able to recognize our viewpoint. He also said he had nothing particularly new to add about Hungary. The Vice President is on his way there to see what can be done to relieve the situation of refugees. The President would like to see other countries take at least small numbers—mentioned South America, where countries are underpopulated. He mentioned that there seem to be a lot of professional people coming out of Hungary now. He said Austria was glad to act as a temporary haven, but wants the refugees out of there as soon as possible. Also, the Hungarians so far want to continue on as fast as possible.

The Prime Minister suggested it might be better to support these people in Austria; perhaps some day they could go home. The President said of course it would be easier and less costly to support some of them in Austria rather than bringing them over here, but the Austrians have been urging that we increase our quota, which [Page 332]the President has done to the extreme limit allowed by law. He doesn’t think it would hurt us to take in 40 or 50 thousand.

In answer to a question from the Prime Minister, the President said he thought there would be at least 150,000. The President said these figures could be wrong, that he had not got the reports of his committee yet.

The President replied to another question that he would not know of any reason to oppose any (of the Hungarian refugees) from going back to Hungary.

The President mentioned that he knew the Prime Minister was to see Secretary Dulles this afternoon and at that time they would work on the statement that will be released at the conclusion of the Prime Minister’s visit. The President said he would have no objection to whatever Nehru and the State Department agreed upon.

The President said that, in looking back over their talks of Monday3, he was not sure that he had made clear how much importance the United States attaches to the reunification of Germany.

(Nehru replied.)

The President in answer said that he realized that Russia did a lot in World War II and has certain legitimate fears—one of them was a completely revitalized, belligerent Armed Germany. We have no intention of allowing that to occur. That is one reason we never considered an independent army for Germany, but only as a part of other nations that have been equally abused by Germany and fearful of her. Actually, France has far more reason to be frightened of Germany than has Russia—and we don’t close our eyes to the fact that the Russian fears have some reasonable basis—but we do think they have been very rigid in their refusal to talk about any plan which could bring this about in a framework of general European security. The President said also that in October of 1955 we tried hard to get the Russians to go along with any initial steps.

The President changed the subject, saying that since his visit with the Prime Minister he had been parading his new knowledge of India and Pakistan. He said as he looked back on their conversations he found them most constructive.

Nehru spoke at length. The President said that we have constantly maintained that we are not seeking to assist Pakistan with any thought that her strength vis-à-vis India should be increased.

He also stated that whenever we sold or gave arms to another country, it was with the understanding that such arms should not be used aggressively.

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In response to a question, the President said that of course he wouldn’t argue with the Prime Minister about Soviet motives because it is one that has no proof. But their apparent desire to communize the world goes along with the Marxist doctrine for world revolution of the proletaria[t]. He said that now on the Prime Minister’s side of the argument, when he used to talk, in the latter part of 1945 and early part of 1946 with his good friend, Marshal Zhukov4 had always said, “All we are interested in is that we have there a friendly government.” The President—then the General—had replied that we want them to be the friends (of the Russians) but were they going to be free and Zhukov’s answer was, “Oh, yes, they would not be friendly otherwise.” So again it is the old story of colonialism—that you cannot make friends by dominating them.

Nehru answered, “That is true.” And he went on with other remarks.

The President then asked if Nehru meant to suggest that the whole of Germany and of Eastern Europe should be lumped together in a “neutral zone.” The President said that he thought the only real flaw in such a hope was not that the West would demand that Germany be with them, but he failed to see how a great nation like Germany could be reduced to the point that it would be merely the buffer—not even a buffer—sort of a vacuum between the West and the East.

The President also pointed out—in reply to a question—that there was no similarity between the relationship of West Germany and the allies on the one hand, and Russia and the satellites on the other. One was a forceful domination—the other a voluntary association.

If Adenauer5 should be defeated by the Socialists who might want to take a neutral position, there would be no answer on our part except to acknowledge their right to do so. He said the Prime Minister did awaken in his mind this idea: Let there be a true Warsaw Pact6 among all nations who want to join it, starting with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Roumania, Bulgaria and Hungary; let them make a voluntary Pact among themselves for neutrality, not necessarily complete disarmament, because normally a neutral nation has to make some effort to protect its neutrality. But they could say: “We are neutral, we are not West, we are not East, we are going to be friendly to all the countries.”

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The President said he thought that idea would begin to make some sense, when approved by free election, and certainly it would conform to everything we have said. All we want is for them the opportunity to decide their own fate. If Germany chose to join such a Pact, we could have nothing to say. The President said he cannot see how we could, under the principles and policies under which we operate, take exception to such a thing, if that is what they choose to do.

However, the President said—this cannot be tested now because the Eastern governments are not free to act. He said he thought it would be a fine idea to get those countries of Eastern Europe free enough to tell how they want to live. Certainly we have got to explore every idea.

The President said that he could say frankly that we do not want our troops abroad; to start with, no occupational troops have ever made friends for the countries from whence they came. He said—consider our troops. They are well paid; compared to the little shopkeepers and the lower income people among whom they live, they are wealthy. That does not create good will. We would like to get them back. As it is, nobody living west of the Eisenach–Linz Line will agree to one single American soldier coming home. When we sent them there, it was never considered to be a permanent arrangement.

But aside from the certain sense of security Europeans gain from the presence of the troops themselves, they constitute hostages—so the countries of West Europe have a firm commitment that if those countries are attacked, we are at their side. And so none of those nations want us to withdraw our troops.

We do have difficulties. If one of the soldiers commits a crime in Germany, it is a most complicated business. We have had trouble all over the world because our government will not allow these troops to stay unless we can assure them that the men (accused of crime) will be tried by our system. Of course, when they are on leave and on the status of any other tourist, then they are subject to the laws of the land in which they are stationed.

The subject of disarmament came up. The President said that if we could have confidence in the word of the Russians, if we could get hold of anything that credited the Kremlin desire to be straightforward and honest—we would not have so much trouble! But Russia is a very big country that has not published a single word about its military activities; or it says one thing one day and one the other. So when it proposes that by decree “we will reduce our forces to such and such a number and we will foreswear atomic rule,” no one can believe them. We cannot go to our people and say, “You can trust that statement.”

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The President said that the real reason for his Geneva open-skies program7 was primarily to develop “mutual confidence”—to convince both sides that we are not going to live under the threat of surprise attack, because this kind of reconnaissance would prohibit it. Under that confidence, we could go ahead. It was not in itself an answer to disarmament problems, but he said also to the Russians if they wanted also their system of inspection, which is detachments at ports, etc., he said he would accept it.

Recently, in the last message we had from Bulganin, he said the Soviets would accept aerial inspection over a limited area on both sides of the East-West line in Germany. He said, there is some little “give,” apparently, finally in one of their messages.

Mr. Nehru said he believed this to indicate some real change in the Soviet attitude. The President said he hoped so, because it would be dreadful if you didn’t have some hope and faith. He is hopeful that it does mean some little realization on their part that they can’t just sit there and say “Nyet, Nyet”—they have got to do something! He said when he made his open-skies proposal, Bulganin was sitting at the table and received it with enthusiasm—apparently as far as the President could see, the Soviets were hoping for some kind of an agreement and Bulganin spoke of it in glowing terms.

Then as we left the table, Khrushchev walked out of the room with the President and said, “I don’t agree with our Chairman.” The President asked, “And why not?” He said, “This is just an intelligent gimmick—this is just a way to find out what we are doing.” The President said, “I am offering to give you a pattern of what I am doing and then give you the inspectional facilities to see whether I told you the truth.” Why doesn’t that create confidence?

In any event Khrushchev defied Bulganin—but Bulganin’s first reaction was favorable. The President said he admitted that because of our defensive arrangements, we give the Soviets cause for propaganda. Our bases and our flights to places we have been inspecting (our planes are stationed where they may sometimes in bad weather fly over Iron Curtain countries) annoy the Russians. But we feel that if you have a nation that is secretive with everything on the military end, the only thing you can do is keep watching it all the time—we don’t know what else to do.

Nehru spoke about a survey of world economic needs.

The President replied that he had been talking about that to the Secretary of State—and he has been searching for a good way to propose something. He thinks that some proposal through the United Nations to make an honest survey of the world economically—its [Page 336]resources and needs—and of the legitimate ways in which any country can look to its friends for the kind of help that they need, would be good.

In the meantime, we might push technical aid. The President said he understands that there is sometimes useless duplication; by and large we have a very successful program. It is of no interference to anybody because it is purely technical and professional.

We might do something to get a survey started and see what is the response from the other side. The reason the President proposed his atomic bank at the United Nations8 was because he thought then we would start a business organization that would lead people to expand their contacts, because once you talk about atomic power you almost have to talk about hydroelectric power and fuel power and related matters. The plan has made little progress.

The President then said he had to make an Inaugural talk9 and he wants to make it one that is meaningful to all our friends in the world, not just to the people in the United States. He wants to assure the world that, as everyone should know, we seek no territorial gains, that we have in mind no new kind of colonialism.

We don’t fear a country where decision lies in people; we fear a country where decision lies in one individual or one small group. Therefore we try to develop self-reliance or self-support among nations.

The President said that we in the United States recognize clearly that if all of Western Europe should fall to the Communists, then the Communists would have the power to proceed with their threats against the rest of the world. He said he is talking in the short-term military field. As the Prime Minister had indicated, in the long run Communism really does defeat itself. The President remarked that both France and Britain are friends of ours.

The President mentioned his correspondence on Suez with Sir Anthony Eden, which started as far back as early July. He said that someday if he and Prime Minister Nehru both were retired old gentlemen, he would like to show him the letters. He said he feels that if anything is as universal as our own country’s disapproval of any fighting over this thing, he knows it is shared pretty well throughout the whole world. We had this terrible problem, how to keep our friends from acting aggressively, but yet not letting them go so far down the economic drain as a result of their impulsiveness that they become prey to Communist penetration!

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The President went on to say that there is also a new factor, the one Nehru pointed out the other day. Russia was probably counting on a few extra divisions there in the satellite countries. So we would have had to set aside an equal number of divisions to keep them from causing trouble. The President said he admits it is quite different, adding, “I don’t know what you think of that.” The President thought of Eden as a very fine, famous man, and always found his associations with him most pleasant.

An interesting thing, said the President, is that atomic capability on both sides of the Iron Curtain had more or less neutralized itself so far as European thinking is concerned. So there has been a resurgence of a feeling of dependence, particularly in Germany, on conventional arms. He said Chancellor Adenauer today is pushing us harder than ever for more forces; sends us the most extraordinary messages, to the effect that we are running out on them, disturbing their people, making it more difficult for him. He has gotten very upset about it.

Saudi Arabia. In this latest ramification, in the last year, time and again we told King Saud exactly what we are doing. He still says that our kind of talk is making it difficult for him politically.

The Prime Minister talked at length, mentioning the name of Chou En-Lai. The President said that is number one priority. He spoke of the incident of the invitation for newspapermen to go over there, and our thought that, step by step, we might have been able to reach some kind of modus vivendi.

The President spoke of his conversations with Chiang Kai-Shek.10 When he visited there right after the War, he was impressed to hear everybody talking perfectly freely, and that they seemed to like “having us around.” They put the President in the most beautiful quarters he has ever been in. There seemed no danger, or no thought of any molestation or interference. The President said that he, for one, was particularly shocked when we saw developing in the country those terrible pictures of United States victims.

The President said he would like to get our people over their currently very adverse attitude toward Red China. They put Red China at the bottom of the list, even below Russia, which he does not understand—but that it is true. He thinks most of it is about the ten prisoners and the fact, as he had told Nehru the other day, of the casualties suffered in Korea. Our people are sensitive—in World War II, they thought that it was something that had to be fought. He said he never heard discussed so much the theories of World War II as of the casualties of Korea. So the President thinks the main thing from our side is (a) the ten prisoners, and (b) Korea.

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With those things straightened out, we would of course naturally do something with our public opinion here; secondly, we could do something, as the President had said before, about sending newspapermen over there who would begin to find out what they are thinking. There would then be a flow of news coming back that would tend to ameliorate this uneasy state of pandemonium. And there could, out of such a small achievement as this, spring something very fine.

But the President’s feeling, as of this moment, is that it is impossible for us to take the first step. He said Foster Dulles may have a different view, but that this is his own feeling.

The President told Nehru that he is a man who is without personal ambition whatsoever. He has no ambition left in the world except to leave a record—not a personal record, but a knowledge that something has been advanced to help the cause of peace in the world.

The President told the Prime Minister he would not have stayed in this position had people in the Administration not insisted that it would be wrong to make a change at this moment when we have so many critical things started in the world—and their insistence that he just had to try to carry on. (The President personally feels it might be nice to just sit on the farm, play a little golf, and call it a day.) But if the President could help to ease the tension, so that finally we could work out the details, raise living standards, and bring about greater happiness—that is the only thing he could possibly look forward to.

So the President is willing to do anything, go anywhere, provided he can be shown that it would help rather than exacerbate the situation. Sometimes one may go, when so much is expected, and there turns out to be a collapse of effort when a miracle is not produced overnight. Before taking any such move, the President would want to be sure it would advance the cause of world understanding a little bit.

The President told of his having left a sick bed to go to the conferences at Panama11—though he added that he did think it helped put him back in the harness again, that he improved steadily since that trip.

The President looks forward to seeing Nehru again this evening (dinner at Embassy). He did want to tell him how much he derived from this meeting—has gained much, he is sure, in understanding that will be helpful. He looks forward—as he hopes Nehru does—to personal correspondence, for which he thinks this meeting has [Page 339]opened the possibility. He mentioned that there are a number of Heads of State with whom he now corresponds, and once a personal contact has been opened up, it is possible. One to whom he does write is the King of Saudi Arabia.

The President continued: “So if at any time you have an idea, particularly this line you were talking of something you would now wish to get that might come better say from a country like ours—particularly if there were some kind of investment or money involved that we could provide and that would come better from us—you make the request and I will certainly give it every possible consideration. Because I expect the same thing.”

The Prime Minister thanked the President. His statement concluded with, “as to what we should do about guns.”

The President recalled the Prime Minister’s having raised that question before,12 and said he has thought about it a great deal. He said this is one question on which we have tried as usual to remain a friend of both sides. At this moment of course Portugal is a member of NATO. And we have a base on the Azores. That is about our relationship with them. The President thinks we have no particular trade—said something about size and population.

The President does not know how acute this is in India’s public opinion today—but said that we are trying to straighten out the Mid East and get the Canal operating, which he thinks is just as important to India as it is to Western Europe and to us. He said we are trying to take advantage of what we believe to be a very great adversity to the Communist dictator pressures and objectives. He thinks if Nehru could hold off a little bit and defer moving on Goa in any way, it would be better to bring up now [sic]. The President wanted it understood that he was merely “talking off the top of his head”—first of all, as he said before, he does not know how really deeply this matter affects Indian public opinion throughout the nation—and if it is as urgent as he thinks it is, of course Nehru cannot defer it, but would have to do something.

After Nehru spoke, the President next said he thinks that here is a specific thing about which he can talk to Foster Dulles, something that would tend to reduce tension—because Portugal, however spurious their claim, would not be abandoning their own claims…13

The President recalled that Nehru told him there was a question of income and money, which he at first said he would take up with Secretary Dulles. Then he added the suggestion that Nehru himself bring it up when he sees Mr. Dulles this afternoon. Nehru said he [Page 340]already has mentioned it to Mr. Dulles. The President then asked, “Did you mention these prisoners?” (Nehru talked at some length.)

The President said that if any nation uses aggressively any arms ever given to them by the United States, they are going to be in trouble with us. This does not mean that we would go to war, but the first thing we would do would be to stop any further shipments to them. We have always been very careful not to give great stocks of ammunition, so that no one can go too far astray. On top of that, the pressure would be put upon them, because we have been helping them economically as well as militarily. The President said he cannot insure that we would never support them, but we would oppose and try to block any such move as, for example, Russia coming into the Mid East.

The President asked the question, “Is Kashmir the real bone of contention, or is that only a manifestation of the country?”

The Prime Minister replied, then apparently changed the subject. The President’s next statement was that he will give the subject some thought and will try to produce an idea. But, he said, we would not want to be pushing ourselves forward as a mediator in such a thing.

The President hoped the Prime Minister enjoyed his stay; said his travel arrangements are all set, that he need not worry about a thing on that.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries. Top Secret. Transcribed presumably by Ann C. Whitman, Secretary to the President. A note on the source text indicates that Nehru was unaccompanied and “practically impossible” to hear. Eisenhower had met earlier with Nehru at Gettysburg and had called Dulles on December 18 to give him the essence of the conversation. He described the talks as “pretty good,” noting that they were “in the realm of philosophy” and “about India and its problems”. (Memorandum of telephone conversation by Bernau, December 18; ibid., Dulles Papers, White House Telephone Conversations) For text of the communiqué issued upon Nehru’s departure from Washington on December 20, see Department of State Bulletin, January 14, 1957, p. 47.
  2. Raymond A. Hare.
  3. December 17.
  4. Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov was Soviet head of the Allied Control Commission in Germany 1945–1946, Commander in Chief of Soviet Land Forces in 1946, and as of April of that year, Deputy Minister of Soviet Armed Forces.
  5. Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor of the German Federal Republic.
  6. For text of the Warsaw Pact, “On Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Aid” dated May 14, 1955, see Varshavskoe Soveshchanie Evropeiskikh Gosdarstv (Moscow, 1955).
  7. Eisenhower’s aerial inspection proposal made at Geneva on July 21, 1955, is detailed in Department of State Bulletin, August 1, 1955, p. 174.
  8. This proposal was incorporated in the President’s address before the U.N. General Assembly on December 8, 1953; for text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953 (Washington, 1960), pp. 813–822.
  9. The text of the President’s Second Inaugural Address delivered on January 21, 1957, is ibid., 1957 (Washington, 1958), pp. 60–65.
  10. President of the Republic of China.
  11. After his ileitis attack, the President attended the meeting of the Presidents of the American Republics in Panama in July 1956.
  12. Reference is to Goa.
  13. Ellipsis in the source text.