389 Watt to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram 95 MOSCOW, 14 March 1948, 6.50 p.m.



1. On March 13th I had an 80 minute interview with Zorin, the last twenty minutes of which was taken up by discussion of the question of status of missions which is dealt with in separate telegram.

2. I began by expressing appreciation of the recent Soviet action with regard to trade, status of missions and the Legation's rouble limit. I suggested that negotiations on these matters demonstrated the practicability of amicable arrangements which I hoped could be extended to our mutual advantage into the field of high political policy.

3. I then restated briefly the basic Australian attitude towards peace settlements (particularly the Japanese settlement) and reviewed proposals put forward during earlier interview on January 29th. These proposals had been put forward as a practical approach to the problem. They were not exhaustive and there might be other effective lines of approach. It had occurred to the Australian Government that substantial progress might be made by establishing an informal committee of officials charged with the duty of drafting a tentative Peace Treaty without committing their Governments. I then implemented the material contained in your telegrams 49 and 56 [1] emphasizing that in putting forward the new suggestion we in no sense withdrew earlier suggestions.

4. Zorin, on this occasion, took no notes, and spoke more freely though he chose his words carefully. He said that he would of course transmit the new suggestion to his Government. Speaking personally, however, he doubted the value of establishing such a committee. Experience had clearly shown that in the absence of prior agreement at high level on basic political principles, committees of 'experts' had little chance of achieving useful results. They merely discussed matters at great length, failed to agree and matters had to be referred back for further instructions.

5. I then said that I did not think Australia had in mind a committee of 'experts' in the narrow sense. The proposed officials, I presumed, would be men with 'political' experience thoroughly conversant with their Governments' political views.

They would explore the chance of agreement and if they found sufficient common ground their work would be most valuable as concrete evidence of the practicability of formal discussions. I added that Australia would appreciate early intimation of Soviet reactions to all proposals and mentioned in passing my own impending departure. [2]

6. Zorin's reply was rather obscure. He said again, speaking personally, it might be rather difficult for the U.S.S.R. to give its reactions. Proposals of this character seemed a little unreal in the absence of basic agreement on these matters among the powers most directly concerned (in the context he meant great powers). The Soviet Government had already made its contribution by stating its position based on past international agreement. It was now rather for other Governments to make their contributions based also on such past agreements. Real advance was difficult in the absence of underlying great power unanimity.

7. This is my best interpretation of Zorin's meaning but the actual words I have used should not be attributed to him literally. He was not inviting some great power approach; he was not rejecting or minimising the value of our own approach though he may have felt that we should approach other great powers as well or instead. Rather was he indicating his view of the difficulty of any real progress or of any i[mmedi]ate Soviet reactions to our proposals in the absence of great power agreement perhaps not only with regard to Japan but also Europe.

8. I concluded by saying that nothing would give the Australian Government greater satisfaction than great power agreement on vital international problems. But it was largely because [of] continued absence of such agreement that Australia felt bound to contribute what it could. Our proposals were put forward in good faith in the belief that they were reasonably practical means to an end, urgent attainment of which was generally agreed to be essential.

1 For cablegram 49 see Document 388 Cablegram 56, dispatched 11 March 1948, elaborated on the Australian proposal.

2 Watt was leader of the Australian delegation to the United Nations Conference on Freedom of Information at Geneva from 23 March to 21 April 1948.

[AA:A1838/283, 69/1/3, i]