6-147 Conversation with Ernest Bevin, December 4, 1947

Date: December 4, 1947

December 4, 1947
London, England

MARSHALL met with British Foreign Secretary Bevin to discuss problems concerning Austria, Germany, and Palestine.

Marshall was concerned that the Soviets were using the question of reparations from Austria to maneuver the United States and Britain into accepting their claims to reparations from Germany. “[I]f it became clear that a stalemate was going to be reached” on Germany at the Conference of Foreign Ministers, “I should make a statement listing the six or seven main points on which it was essential to reach agreement regarding the economic position of Germany if the German economy was to be stabilized and to declare that if no settlement could be reached between the four powers then the US and Great Britain would have to take the necessary steps on their own.”

Britain would not tolerate economic chaos in Germany, Bevin stated; moreover, the general feeling in his country was to be prepared for the London conference to break down. “[Q]uite frankly,” Marshall responded, “what would be popular in the US would be that I should break off and tell the Russians to go to the devil, but that this public response would be temporary and would be followed later by a different one when the implications were fully understood. I, however, tentatively thought that it might be wise to indicate the differences on matters of real substance and to suggest that unless agreement could be had on them we would have to proceed—always making it clear, however, that we were not permanently breaking. It was important, of course, to choose our ground carefully and to time it to the best possible advantage; we must at the same time be careful to avoid allowing ourselves to be maneuvered by the Russians into a situation where the break occurred on what would later appear to be an inconsequential point which would not carry conviction with our public opinion. I felt that Molotov must realize that we, for our part, would endeavor to end the discussion if it had to break down, in a way which would carry conviction with our public opinion; Molotov was thus constantly maneuvering to guard himself against being put in that position.”

Bevin suspected that, after probing for soft spots in the Anglo-American position, the Soviets might, if they found none, still agree to a settlement. “If the Communist moves in France failed and the Interim Aid Bill went through Congress,” Marshall said, “the western powers would enjoy a greatly increased momentum in this conference. . . . [M]y present inclination was at some carefully timed stage in the conference to specify certain steps which must be taken in order to adjust German economy, and if four power agreement on these steps could not be reached, then we should be obliged to take them on our own immediately. It was essential that the US and Great Britain should act together if this course was decided on.”

The two men then discussed the Palestine problem. Bevin stressed that it was important that Britain and America prevent further Jewish immigration into Palestine; otherwise “the Arabs would undoubtedly be incited to massacre the Jews.” The United States might then find itself required to provide forces to halt this, and the Soviet Union might consequently demand that it also be allowed to send forces. Marshall “admitted that the greatest fear of the US military authorities in regard to the question was the presence of a Russian force in Palestine.” Moreover, Marshall “could not believe that the Jews would any longer proceed with illegal immigration, since it must be a dead loss to them and would be of no pressure value.” Bevin was not convinced and asked Marshall to urge his government to restrain the activities of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and publicly condemn the illegal immigration effort. Marshall said he would tell Washington of Bevin’s ideas; a copy of his message was sent to President Truman on December 8. (Secretary of State to Acting Secretary of State, December 6, 1947, Radio No. MARTEL 40 with handwritten note that a copy was sent to the president, NA/RG 59 [Central Decimal File, 740.00119 Control/12–647].) *