89. Memorandum of a Conversation Between Secretary of State Dulles and Foreign Minister Shigemitsu, Ambassador Aldrich’s Residence, London, August 19, 1956, 6 p.m.1



  • Japanese-Soviet Treaty Negotiations

At the conclusion of the discussion of the United States proposal for a declaration to be made to the London Conference on the Suez Canal,2 Mr. Shigemitsu said he would like to bring up the subject of his negotiations with the Soviet Union for a Peace Treaty.3 He said the only remaining point at issue was the territorial question. The Soviet Union wished to draw a boundary line to the north of Habomai and Shikotan. He inquired whether such a boundary would be legal from the point of view of the San Francisco Treaty. He said that Mr. Sebald had stated to the Japanese Embassy in Washington that such a concession would be in contravention of the Treaty.

The Secretary reminded Mr. Shigemitsu that the Kuriles and Ryukyus were handled in the same manner under the surrender terms and that while the United States had by the peace treaty agreed that residual sovereignty to the Ryukyus might remain with Japan, we had also stipulated by Article 26 that if Japan gave better terms to Russia we could demand the same terms for ourselves. That would mean that if Japan recognized that the Soviet Union was entitled to full sovereignty over the Kuriles we would assume that we were equally entitled to full sovereignty over the Ryukyus.

Mr. Shigemitsu stated his understanding that under Article 3 the status of these islands was definitively settled and could not be reopened. The Secretary again reaffirmed that this was not the case because of Article 26.

[Page 203]

Mr. Shigemitsu inquired whether the United States would be prepared to take the initiative to convene a conference to discuss the disposition of the Kuriles and the Ryukyus. The Secretary took a negative attitude to this suggestion. He noted that Article 27 should be of value to Japan in its negotiations with the Soviet Union. The Japanese might tell the Soviets that if they were forced to give up the Kuriles they would have to give up the Ryukyus as well. In its dealings with Japan the United States has been soft where the Soviet Union has been tough. Perhaps the United States should likewise get tough. The Secretary expressed the opinion that the Soviet Union needs peace with Japan as much as Japan needs peace with the Soviet Union. He recalled that the Soviet Union had taken the position repeatedly that they would never have a peace treaty with Austria until peace had been made with Germany, but they had suddenly changed. Perhaps in dealing with the Soviet Union the best way would be to take the position that all the Kuriles enjoy the same status as the Ryukyus—i.e., foreign occupation with residual sovereignty resting with Japan. He thought there might be a basis for compromise with the Soviet Union taking sovereignty over certain islands and conceding Japan sovereignty over others. He said that he did not see the Japanese query about the San Francisco Treaty until he was about to leave Washington. He told the Japanese Ambassador there in effect what he was now telling Mr. Shigemitsu.4 If Japan tells the Soviet Union that it could have sovereignty over the Kuriles, then the United States will insist on sovereignty over the Ryukyus. The Secretary remarked in parentheses that he did not necessarily mean that the United States would in fact insist on full sovereignty over the Ryukyus but rather that the United States was entitled to do so and he could not guarantee what some future United States Government might say with regard to this problem. The whole purpose of Article 26 is to prevent a subsequent Treaty from extracting from Japan more favorable conditions. Were Japan to ask the United States if the title to the Kuriles could be split as between the southern-northern parts, the United States might reconsider. The United States has already turned back the northern Ryukyus. The Secretary suggested Japan might tell the Soviet Union of the tough line the United States was taking—that if the Soviet Union were to take all the Kuriles, the United States might remain forever in Okinawa, and no Japanese Government could survive.

Mr. Shigemitsu said that, if the United States were firm in its interpretation as outlined by the Secretary, Japan should then renew its efforts with the Soviet Union. The Japanese argument was the Kunashiri and Etorofu were properly the territory of Japan and that Japanese sovereignty over these islands had never before been questioned [Page 204] by the Soviet Union. The Soviet reply had been that the disposition of these islands had been decided by wartime agreements with the United States and the United Kingdom.

The Secretary stated emphatically that this was untrue. He said that the wartime decisions were only recommendations for consideration at a Peace Treaty. He could assure Mr. Shigemitsu that no statement of President Truman ever confirmed Soviet title to these islands and that he would confirm this position if the Japanese formally ask him.

Mr. Shigemitsu suggested that the United Kingdom might have a different view as to the validity of the wartime declarations. The Secretary replied that he could not speak for the United Kingdom and that he never discussed this point with the United Kingdom. It is possible that, by virtue of the British constitutional system, the Prime Minister had bound the United Kingdom at Yalta.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 62 D 181, CF 745. Secret. Drafted by Arthur Ringwalt. Dulles left Washington on August 14 to attend the London Conference on the Suez Canal crisis, which opened in London August 16, and remained there until August 24. For documentation on the Conference, see volume XVI.
  2. This part of the conversation is covered in USDel/MC/47, also by Ringwalt. (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 62 D 181, CF 745)
  3. Soviet-Japanese talks had resumed at Moscow on July 31, but were suspended on August 13 in order that Shigemitsu and Soviet Foreign Minister Dimitri Shepilov might attend the London Conference. By that time, however, the talks had reached deadlock over the territorial issue and over a Soviet proposal that warships of nonriparian powers be excluded from the Japan Sea. At a press conference held in Moscow on August 13, Shigemitsu expressed the belief that it was advisable to conclude a treaty even on the Soviet terms.

    In telegram 366 from Tokyo, August 14, Allison reported that he had learned from a Japanese source that the remainder of the Cabinet was unanimous in opposing a treaty on the Soviet terms. (Ibid., Central Files, 661.941/8–1456)

  4. No other record of this conversation has been found.
  5. Secto 33 from London, August 22, repeated to Tokyo, transmitted to the Department a summary of this conversation. (Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–2256)