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Historical documents

300 Burton to Watt

Letter, CANBERRA, 7 September 1948


Thank you for your telegram 283 setting out your views on the implications of the procedure being adopted during the Moscow talks.

You raise two separate, though related, issues - first, the whole question of intra-commonwealth consultation and, second, the value of our overseas missions. On the first issue, there has, to my knowledge, been no actual consultation as such, although both the P.M. and the Minister have had discussions personally with Attlee and Bevin.[1] However, the P.M. has been kept informed, and the opportunity for comment has been there if required. I agree that this procedure leaves much to be desired, particularly if it should be regarded as a precedent. But we have publicly indicated our approval of the general line being taken by the Western Powers. We are not being treated as party to the negotiations, and we have, in fact, no particular contribution (as to detail) to offer. It is, therefore, probably wise not to get too concerned as to the actual details of the negotiations. This is consistent with the general policy which we have been adopting over Germany in the last twelve months or longer, namely, that we have the right to participate in all negotiations regarding the German settlement but that since our right is clearly not recognised, we will not commit ourselves to suggestions on detail, but will only make known our views on general principles.

Coming to the second issue, I do not think it quite right to draw a parallel between the present talks and the 1947 CFM meeting in Moscow. In 1947, we were stressing our claim to actual participation and were prepared to offer our views on the detailed issues involved. This is not the case now, and the negotiations are not strictly concerned with a peace settlement. Further, in 1947 Moscow was the U.K. policy making centre and it was in Moscow that we tried to exert our influence. The policy centres now for the Western Powers are clearly their own capitals and it is to London, from which our information is derived, that our views would, if occasion demanded, be directed.

You are right in saying that the value of the Embassy is reduced because it is without the full information on which advice to the Government could be based. But I feel that his remark should be qualified both by what I have said above and also by the fairly strong case which can be made out for preserving secrecy. No doubt the Western Powers have bitter memories of the system of inspired revelation which characterised previous meetings of the CFM and which made negotiation in them almost impossible. They now have the opportunity of genuine negotiation in secret, the success of which might be jeopardised if it became known, as it would be if there were on-the-spot consultations with Roberts[2] in Moscow, that any of the Western Powers were not being scrupulously fair. Of course, this system has its disadvantages, as you have pointed out.

Bearing this in mind, I do not agree that you should refrain from comment where you think it worth while, even if some of it is speculative. The present negotiations concern the short-term. The long-term problem, both as to Germany and the relations between East and West, remains. If there is to be another CFM meeting, it is probable that we will wish to be more active.

In conclusion, I agree with you that the implications of the present procedure should be carefully studied. These old exclusive procedures may be alright for the settlement of particular points of conflict which involve the four powers only. They are quite wrong when it comes to final issues of war and peace. It seems that the present negotiations do not immediately concern such final issues and the discussions do seem to have been successfully localised on Berlin. That is why we can safely refrain from offering a contribution. But there is always the possibility that these more important issues will intrude and that an attempt to settle them by the same exclusive procedures will be made. That should be the point at which we should demand a wider basis of settlement. The difficulty is to know when this point is going to arise. I rather think that the U.K. themselves have not given sufficient forethought to this question, and I hope that the Minister will raise it in London. You will, of course, be able to discuss your views with him in Paris.

[1] Formal discussions took place in October 1948. See Volume 14, Documents 84-91.

[2] F.K. Roberts, Principal Private Secretary to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Bevin's personal representative in Moscow during absence of the Ambassador.

[AA : A1838, 29/2/1/5]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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