Memorandum by Mr. Charles E. Bohlen, Assistant to the Secretary of State, of a Meeting at the White House

Memorandum by Mr. Charles E. Bohlen, Assistant to the Secretary of State, of a Meeting at the White House

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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945, vol. 5: Europe, pp. 252-59.

PRESENT: The President [Harry S. Truman]
The Secretary of State [Edward Stettinius]
The Secretary of War [Henry Stimson]
The Secretary of Navy [James Forrestal]
Admiral Leahy [Military Chief of Staff to the President]
General Marshall [U.S. Army Chief of Staff]
Admiral King [Chief of Naval Operations]
Mr. Dunn [Assistant Secretary of State]
Ambassador Harriman [U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union]
General Deane [U.S. Military Mission to the USSR]
Mr. Bohlen


THE SECRETARY OF STATE told the meeting that Mr. Molotov had arrived in good spirits yesterday and had had a good talk with the President yesterday evening but that at the Foreign Ministers meeting later great difficulties had developed over the Polish question. The continuance of the meeting this morning had produced no improvement and a complete deadlock had been reached on the subject of the carrying out of the Yalta agreement on Poland. The Secretary said that the truth of the matter was the Lublin or Warsaw Government was not representative of the Polish people and that it was now clear that the Soviet Government intended to try to enforce upon the United States and British Governments this puppet government of Poland and obtain its acceptance as the legal government of Poland. He said that as they all recalled at Yalta an agreement had been reached regarding the formation of a new Polish Government representative of the people by means of the reorganization of the present provisional government in consultation with other Polish democratic leaders. He said it had been made plain to Mr. Molotov how seriously the United States Government regarded this matter and how much public confidence would be shaken by our failure to carry out the Crimean decision.

THE PRESIDENT said that he had told Mr. Molotov last night that he intended fully to carry out all the agreements reached by President Roosevelt at the Crimea. He added that he felt our agreements with the Soviet Union so far had been a one way street and that could not continue; it was now or never. He intended to go on with the plans for San Francisco and if the Russians did not wish to join us they could go to hell. The President then asked in rotation the officials present for their view.

MR. STIMSON said that this whole difficulty with the Russians over Poland was new to him and he felt it was important to find out what the Russians were driving at. He said in the big military matters the Soviet Government had kept their word and that the military authorities of the United States had come to count on it. In fact he said that they had often been better than their promise. He said it was important to find out what motives they had in mind in regard to these border countries and that their ideas of independence and democracy in areas that they regarded as vital to the Soviet Union are different from ours. Mr. Stimson remarked that they had a good deal of trouble on minor military matters and it was necessary in these cases to teach them manners. In this case he said that without fully understanding how seriously the Russians took this Polish question we might be heading into very dangerous water. He remarked that 25 years ago virtually all of Poland had been Russian.

MR. FORRESTAL said that he felt that this difficulty over Poland could not be treated as an isolated incident, that there had been many evidences of the Soviet desire to dominate adjacent countries and to disregard the wishes of her allies. He said he had felt that for some time the Russians had considered that we would not object if they took over all of Eastern Europe into their power. He said it was his profound conviction that if the Russians were to be rigid in their attitude we had better have a show down with them now than later.

AMBASSADOR HARRIMAN said that in regard to Mr. Stimson’s question as to the issues and the motives he felt that when Stalin and Molotov had returned to Moscow after Yalta they had been informed by Bierut (the present head of the provisional government) concerning the situation in Poland and had realized that the provisional government was in a shaky condition and that the introduction of any genuine Polish leader such as Mikolajczyk would probably mean the elimination of the Soviet hand-picked group. He remarked that the real issue was whether we were to be a party to a program of Soviet domination of Poland. He said obviously we were faced with a possibility of a real break with the Russians but he felt that if properly handled it might be avoided. The President said that he had no intention of delivering an ultimatum to Mr. Molotov but merely to make clear the position of this Government.

MR. STIMSON observed that he would like to know how far the Russian reaction to a strong position on Poland would go. He said he thought that the Russians perhaps were being more realistic than we were in regard to their own security.

ADMIRAL LEAHY said that he had left Yalta with the impression that the Soviet Government had no intention of permitting a free government to operate in Poland and that he would have been surprised had the Soviet Government behaved any differently than it had. In his opinion the Yalta agreement was susceptible to two interpretations. He added that he felt that it was a serious matter to break with the Russians but that we should tell them that we stood for a free and independent Poland.

THE SECRETARY OF STATE then read the part of the Yalta decision relating to the formation of the new Government and the holding of free elections and said he felt that this was susceptible of only one interpretation.

GENERAL MARSHALL said he was not familiar with the Polish issue and its political aspects. He said from the military point of view the situation in Europe was secure but that they hoped for Soviet participation in the war against Japan at a time when it would be useful to us. The Russians had it within their, power to delay their entry into the Far Eastern war until we had done all the dirty work. He said the difficulties with the Russians such as in the case of CROSSWORD usually straightened out. He was inclined to agree with Mr. Stimson that possibility of a break with Russia was very serious.

Mr. STIMSON observed that he agreed with General Marshall and that he felt that the Russians would not yield on the Polish question. He said we must understand that outside the United States with the exception of Great Britain there was no country that understood free elections; that the party in power always ran the election as he well knew from his experience in Nicaragua.

ADMIRAL KING inquired whether the issue was the invitation to the Lublin Government to San Francisco. The President informed him that that was a settled matter and not the issue. The issue was the execution of agreements entered into between this Government and the Soviet Union. He said he intended to tell Mr. Molotov that we expected Russia to carry out the Yalta decision as we were prepared to do for our part.

AMBASSADOR HARRIMAN then remarked that while it was true that the Soviet Union had kept its big agreements on military matters that those were decisions which it had already reached by itself but that on other military matters it was impossible to say they had lived up to their commitments. He said for example over a year ago they had agreed to start on preparations for collaboration in the Far Eastern war but that none of these had been carried out. He asked General Deane to express his opinion.

GENERAL DEANE said that he felt that the Soviet Union would enter the Pacific war as soon as it was able irrespective of what happened in other fields. He felt that the Russians must do this because they could not afford too long a period of let down for their people who were tired, there was only a short season in which offensive action against Manchuria was possible and that they would not dare attempt a Bulgarian gambit in the Far East. He said he was convinced after his experiences in Moscow that if we were afraid of the Russians we would get nowhere and he felt that we should be firm when we were right.

THE PRESIDENT then thanked the military representation and said that he felt that he had their point of view well in mind and would ask the Secretary of State and his advisers to stay behind to work out the details of his forthcoming talk with Mr. Molotov.

The President then said that he was satisfied that from a military point of view there was no reason why we should fail to stand up to our understanding of the Crimean agreements and he requested the Secretary of State to prepare for him (1) a statement to be handed to Mr. Molotov for communication to Marshal Stalin, (2) a list of points he might mention orally to Mr. Molotov and (3) a draft of a statement to the press. He said he would be prepared to receive the Secretary of State and his advisers just as soon as this could be done and afterwards he would see Mr. Molotov. The Secretary agreed and said he would have the drafts in the President’s hands by 5: 00 o’clock.

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