98. Memorandum of a Conversation, Washington, September 20, 1955 1


  • Views of Secretary Dulles on East-West Contacts


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Jackson
  • Mr. MacArthur
  • Mr. Stoessel

After expressing his deep appreciation to Mr. Jackson for agreeing to accept the difficult job of coordinating the United States position on East-West contacts for the Geneva Conference,2 the [Page 212]Secretary said that he felt this whole subject was an extremely complicated one. He had the feeling that everyone wants to penetrate the Soviet Union, but no one wants the Soviet Union to penetrate us.

The Secretary said that we should keep very much in mind problems of reciprocity in connection with East-West contacts. For example, he noted that one of the proposals which had been advanced was to establish a USIA center in Moscow. This might be a fine idea in itself, but it would obviously cause the Soviets to request the establishment of a Soviet information center in the United States. The Secretary anticipated that we would have a very hard time with Congressional representatives and a large segment of the American people if we consented to the establishment of a Soviet propaganda mill in the U.S.

Furthermore, the Secretary observed that we are currently doing certain things with regard to the Soviets which might be difficult to alter. The Post Office stops Soviet publications from coming in and has warehouses full of such material. To reverse this practice might be difficult.

Mr. Stoessel mentioned, with regard to controls over Communist literature, that there are two bookstores in New York which act as agents for Soviet publications. These bookstores receive Soviet publications without hindrance and have available for distribution in this country some 500 Soviet newspapers and periodicals. The Secretary said he was interested to hear this and that it should be taken into account in our work on East-West contacts.

The Secretary said that some people talk about “eliminating the Soviet iron curtain” in a physical sense, i.e., to remove the actual barriers of barbed wire, watch towers, and so on. Again, this idea sounds appealing but might cause us some trouble. The Secretary recalled that he had talked recently with General Swing, of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, who had described in some detail our system of barbed wire barriers along the United States-Mexican border.3 In addition to these barriers, it appears that U.S. patrols send out bloodhounds to track down persons attempting to cross this border. The Secretary understood the Communists have made a movie about these American border controls and that we might have this situation thrown back at us if we raise a question about removal of Soviet border patrols.

The Secretary believed that we should concentrate on items in East-West contacts on which we are in a position to reciprocate. He [Page 213]thought that radio communications and circulation of newspapers fitted into this category. We do not jam Soviet radio broadcasts to this country and we give full publicity in our newspapers to all speeches made by Soviet leaders. It might be possible to accomplish something in this field, so that the peoples of both countries will know what the leaders of both countries are saying. In the present situation, there is a blackout in the Soviet Union of true news about the United States. The Soviet communications media distort the American position on major issues and the Soviet people have little choice but to believe these distortions. This is a dangerous situation which we should try to improve.

The Secretary recognized that there would be difficulties in discussing this subject with the Soviets. For one thing, the Soviets have a controlled press and we have an uncontrolled press. No doubt, our press prints many things about the Soviet Union which are distortions of the truth and which are unpalatable to the Soviet leaders. The Soviets could point to this fact and ask us to take steps to correct this situation in the U.S. This would have to be rejected of course, since the press in the U.S. is free to print what it wishes.

The Secretary said that one of the chief difficulties we are faced with is that information the Soviets wish to disseminate in this country is known to all in the United States. On the other hand, what we try to get across to the Soviet Union is known to very few people there. Even though we may think that we are reaching a considerable number of people in the Soviet Union through radio or other means, there is no way of proving this. The Secretary recalled that when he was in Moscow in 19474 he had been told that copies of the Russian language magazine Amerika were very rare and were sold at bootleg prices. This was because, the Secretary understood, the Soviet Government was buying up all copies of Amerika and very few copies were actually getting out to the people. This simply pointed up to him the task we have in insuring dissemination of our ideas in the Soviet Union.

On the subject of fingerprinting, the Secretary remarked that this was a question for action by Congress and that obviously we could not make any commitments one way or the other on it at Geneva. He thought we should look into the matter carefully and weigh the pros and cons of asking Congress to rescind the fingerprinting provision. For himself, he was not very sympathetic to changing the law. Many people here had objected to fingerprinting when it was first introduced but now they had grown used to it.

[Page 214]

In answer to Mr. Jackson’s question as to how the East-West contacts item had come up in discussions between the four powers, the Secretary said that at the opening session of the Heads of Government Conference in Geneva, each speaker had referred to the desirability of increased contacts and this subject was subsequently placed on the agenda for discussion. As it turned out, only President Eisenhower and Mr. Faure had made statements on East-West contacts. Mr. Eden and Mr. Bulganin had submitted statements which had not been read at the meeting. The Secretary’s impression was that the Soviets had emphasized trade and tourism in their opening remarks on the subject,5 but that there had been no discussion which went very deep into the whole question of East-West contacts.

With regard to handling of the East-West contacts item at the October meeting in Geneva, the Secretary thought that it would be best to have a sub-committee of experts designated to go to work on this item at the start of the meeting. They could prepare positions on this subject which could then be considered by the Foreign Ministers. The Secretary thought he might suggest this to Mr. Molotov when he saw him in New York.6 He believed that the directive of the Heads of State meeting provided for such a method of handling the question at Geneva.

In preparing our position, the Secretary felt it was important to coordinate with the British and French and not let them feel that they were being left out of any arrangements between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He recognized, however, that many of the specific projects which the U.S. wished to propose would be of a bilateral nature with the Soviet Union. The Secretary indicated agreement with Mr. MacArthur’s suggestion that the East-West contacts item be handled in a very general way with the Tripartite working group now meeting in Washington and that detailed discussion of it should be postponed until the working group meets in Paris immediately before the October conference.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Confidential. Drafted by Stoessel.
  2. For text of the Department of State press release of September 19 announcing William H. Jackson’s appointment, effective that date, as Special Assistant to the Secretary of State “to coordinate within the U.S. Government the development of U.S. positions for phases of the Foreign Ministers meeting at Geneva pertaining to East-West contacts and exchanges,” see Department of State Bulletin, October 3, 1955, p. 529.
  3. No record of this conversation has been found.
  4. Dulles was a member of the U.S. Delegation to the Fourth Session of the Council of Ministers held at Moscow, March 10–April 24, 1947.
  5. See supra.
  6. Dulles met with Molotov, Foreign Secretary Macmillan, and Foreign Minister Pinay in New York on September 27.