February 2

This Day in History

Cold War

Feb 2, 1949:

United States rejects proposal for conference with Stalin

In response to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's proposal that President Harry S. Truman travel to Russia for a conference, Secretary of State Dean Acheson brusquely rejects the idea as a "political maneuver." This rather curious exchange was further evidence of the diplomatic sparring between the United States and the Soviet Union that was so characteristic of the early years of the Cold War.

Stalin broached the idea of Truman traveling to the Soviet Union, or perhaps to Poland or Czechoslovakia, during a statement in which he indicated that his health prohibited him from coming to the United States to meet his American counterpart. Stalin's agenda for such a meeting was sketchy, beyond a general call for a declaration by each nation that it would not resort to war in dealing with the other. Secretary Acheson stated that he found this idea "puzzling," arguing that treaty commitments and adherence to the United Nations Charter already excluded war between the two powers. Furthermore, without a more concrete agenda, Acheson was reluctant to commit the United States to any one-on-one negotiations with the Soviet Union. In any case, the secretary concluded, President Truman was not willing to go "halfway around the world" to meet with the Soviet leader. Acheson also indicated his disappointment that any nation would "play international politics" with an issue as important as world peace.

Stalin's vague proposal and Acheson's blistering response were typical of the constant war of words that took place between the Soviet Union and the United States during the late-1940s and all during the 1950s. The verbal sparring illustrated the lack of trust on both sides and the failure to locate any foundation for diplomatic negotiations. Although relations between the two nations warmed slightly during the 1960s and 1970s, the war of rhetoric continued unabated.

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