I have finished Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin, 1941-1946, by Averell Harriman, so I will write about selected parts following the death of Franklin Roosevelt.
Harriman was immediately impressed with President Harry Truman when he met the president. In the five days since Roosevelt’s burial, Truman had already made himself familiar with the Yalta agreements and the correspondence between Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Thus he was aware of the challenges that the United States faced in its relations with the Soviet Union.
Truman from the first intended to stand firm with the Soviets. Harriman explained that Russia was breaking the agreements that Stalin had made at Yalta, and Truman understood and agreed with this view. Harriman urged a quid pro quo approach to dealing with the Soviets. He said that although they would take control of everything that they could by bluffing, they had a weak economy and would need American help to rebuild.
Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius had encountered “a complete deadlock” in trying to move Soviet Foreign Commissar Molotov toward carrying out the Yalta agreements on the Polish government. Truman was thus informed before he was scheduled to meet with Molotov, and he solicited the views of other advisers. Some agreed with Harriman that a firm stance was needed, while others wanted to avoid a break with the Russians.
Truman then held his well known meeting with Molotov, in which he sharply told the Soviet foreign minister to live up to the agreements that they had made. Even Harriman was somewhat taken aback by Truman’s vigorous attack on Molotov and considered it a mistake.
Harriman recounts his time in San Francisco at the first conference of the United Nations. In speaking to the press he warned that the Soviets were backing away from the Yalta agreements that involved the governments of Eastern Europe. This earned him the disapproval of some reporters and writers with more liberal leanings.
In an attempt to halt the slide in Soviet-American relations, Harriman supported the idea suggested by Charles Bohlen that Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s closest adviser, meet with Stalin. Truman at first opposed the idea. At the same time came the crisis over the inadvertent halting of Lend Lease aid to Russia.
Harriman returned to Moscow via London and Paris. Harriman met with Churchill, who urged that he, Truman and Stalin should meet soon. In Paris Harriman joined Harry Hopkins and continued on to Moscow. Stalin greeted Hopkins warmly, as an old friend. Hopkins told Stalin that Truman had sent him because many Americans were upset by the trend of relations with Russia. The Poland problem seemed to be at the heart of this feeling. Stalin replied that the Soviets only wanted a friendly Poland, but British conservatives were pushing for using Poland as part of a cordon sanitaire around Russia.
While the talks remained friendly throughout, Stalin, Hopkins and Harriman did not reach any agreements. Harriman tells of Stalin voicing other grievances and of the talks that ranged over several days and a number of issues. Harriman reported to Truman that the visit had created a much better atmosphere for the president’s planned meeting with Stalin.