388. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Informal Exchange of Views between the Secretary and Harold Wilson, British Labor Party Leader


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Harold Wilson, Foreign Minister, Labor Shadow Cabinet, United Kingdom
  • Mr. Robin Wilson (Mr. Wilson’s teen-age son)
  • Mr. Joseph Sweeney, BNA

Mr. Wilson, at his initiative, called on the Secretary for an informal exchange of views. According to Mr. Wilson the Labor Party was in accord with the policies of the present American Government. Indeed, Mr. Wilson doubted if there had been such accord on policy between the Labor Party and the American Government in many years. Mr. Wilson was most complimentary about American leadership, particularly at the time of the Congo difficulty. In his view some of the older Tory reactionaries had given the Government trouble. He considered the recent parliamentary debate on the Congo the most important since Suez. He recalled that in talking to Ambassador Bruce at the time there had been rumors that the Government might fall over the Congo. Mr. Wilson had urged Ambassador Bruce not to report this to Washington as a strong possibility because he felt Prime Minister Macmillan would weather the political storm in his own fashion. When Lord Home, the Foreign Secretary, had sent for him to talk about the Congo, it was clear to Wilson that British and American policies on objectives were very close.

The Secretary asked about what Mr. Wilson thought people on the other side of the Atlantic might do to help in repairing the recent damage to the prestige of the UN. Mr. Wilson agreed it was most important that the Labor Party help in this direction and felt that we could count on their cooperation. He jocularly pointed out that many people in the Conservative Party were opposed to the UN “because there were too many foreigners in it.”

The Secretary inquired about Denis Healey, Mr. Wilson’s predecessor in the Foreign Affairs post in the Shadow Cabinet, who was an old friend of the Secretary’s. Mr. Wilson explained that Healey now had the Commonwealth responsibility in the Shadow Cabinet and was at present [Page 1057] touring Africa. The Secretary asked how Mr. Wilson liked his new responsibility, moving from the Exchequer to the Foreign Affairs responsibility? Mr. Wilson explained that he enjoyed the change, that Hugh Gaitskell had decided that the Foreign Affairs responsibility was a heavy one and that he should shift one of the senior officials to this responsibility so that he, Mr. Gaitskell, could concentrate on domestic policy. [2 lines of source text not declassified]

The Secretary asked how Mr. Wilson thought the Common Market outlook appeared. Mr. Wilson said he was not quite sure. There were divisions on this matter in the Labor Party. Douglas Jay and Denis Healey were very much opposed to British membership in the Common Market. He himself had been all over the lot, for it, and opposed to it, and recently he had emerged at the stage where he said “let’s see how much we have to pay for the horse, and see the condition of his teeth before we move further.” In a view which he had arrived at only since he had been here in America, Mr. Wilson had concluded that what Britain did should depend largely on the size of the external tariff. If, by joining the Common Market, Britain was generally moving toward a free trade area, that would be encouraging, but what we might also be heading for was one of the most restricted trading areas the world had known, and he did not feel that this would be advantageous. Mr. Wilson indicated there might be a general election in Britain before the final decision on British adherence to the Common Market was made, but only if Mr. Macmillan was convinced that a propitious time had arrived for a general election and he felt confident that the Conservative Party could win it. A further concern about the Common Market from his point of view was a series of problems associated with the free movement of capital, which might prove difficult for Britain.

The Secretary inquired if there were any doctrinal restraints on Labor cooperation with the Common Market, in the sense of whether this might be difficult for a Socialist Party. Mr. Wilson felt that there were no such restraints and observed that one of the developments the Common Market permitted and indeed even encouraged was nationalization.

The Secretary explained that he had not read the full text of Lord Home’s recent speech on the United Nations, which had been termed “disastrous” by some British papers, but he was curious about what had happened. The first reports in the American press had not indicated any difficulty on the first day but only on the second day did they imply Lord Home had been critical of the UN and caused something of a political outcry. Mr. Wilson explained this had been an interesting development. Lord Home had been speaking in his own home territory to the local United Nations Association. It had been a small audience, not over a hundred and fifty. Lord Home had said all the right things, but he had said several wrong ones in terms of emphasis, and he had made one major [Page 1058] blunder. The major blunder concerned the “Colonialism resolution” at the recent session of the UN General Assembly. This “Colonialism resolution” had been hard for the Tories. Lord Home, giving his views to a small group, said he did not believe that anyone who voted for this resolution could really be in favor of peace. The Secretary pointed out that we had voted for this resolution. “Exactly,” Mr. Wilson exclaimed, and went on to explain that he had made this point to both Home and the Prime Minister. Mr. Wilson thought this minor tempest would blow over although he did make the point in his insistent way that this was not the only instance in which the Labor Party was closer to American policy than Her Majesty’s Government.

In a general discussion of the problems of nuclear weapons the Secretary said that in a sense the possession of nuclear arms imposed limitations on the sovereignty of the United States. Mr. Wilson agreed and observed that the United States had to have nuclear arms, indeed should have them, but the United Kingdom did not really have to have a nuclear deterrent. He noted that British possession of a nuclear capability was most costly and was a major reason why the U.K. could not afford to do more in the way of conventional arms. Mr. Wilson spoke of the Soviet concern about our nuclear capability and a short discussion ensued of the Soviet fear that Western Germany might obtain an independent nuclear capability.

Mr. Wilson referred to his many trips to the Soviet Union and the Secretary asked what he thought was going on in the leadership there at the present time. Mr. Wilson said he was not sure but it seemed clear to him that Mr. Khrushchev had less than absolute control. He suggested further that Mr. Khrushchev had some difficulty with his younger leaders possibly those in the army. He felt the present internal argument might well have had its beginnings in the debate over the decision to set off the 50 megaton bomb, but he felt it was difficult to explain the present situation inside the Soviet Union.

At the conclusion of their discussion Mr. Wilson asked the Secretary if he would sign his son’s autograph book. At the Secretary’s suggestion arrangements were made for Mr. Wilson and his son to attend the President’s press conference which took place a few minutes after this exchange of views.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.41/1–1562. Official Use Only. Drafted by Sweeney and approved in S on January 23.