Paris Conferences

views updated


PARIS CONFERENCES. During 1946 the United States participated in two lengthy international conferences in Paris that sought to draft a postwar European settlement. The Council of Foreign Ministers, made up of representatives from the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France, met from 25 April to 16 May and from 15 June to 12 July in an effort to agree on peace treaties for the former Axis satellites, Finland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Italy. After extended argument, the participants reached compromise agreements that allowed the convening of the Paris Peace Conference on 29 July 1946; the parley was composed of the twenty-one nations that had been at war with Germany. Concluding on 15 October, this conference recommended modifications in the draft peace treaties to the Big Four, but the essential elements of the treaties had been hammered out in the preliminary foreign ministers meetings.

The Paris conferences of 1946 significantly heated the simmering tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. The bitterness and acrimony that marked the foreign ministers' efforts to agree on relatively minor matters—such as the Italian-Yugoslav boundary, Italian reparations, disposition of the Italian colonies, and rules for the international navigation of the Danube—indicated that agreement on the far more complex German peace treaty was some distance away. Furthermore, each nation used these public forums as a means of ratcheting up the confrontational public rhetoric. Final provisions of the satellite peace treaties were agreed to at the New York foreign ministers meeting on 4 November–12 December 1946, and the treaties were signed by the United States in Washington, D.C., on 20 January 1947 and by the other powers at Paris on 10 February.

Another Big Four foreign ministers conference was held at Paris from 23 May to 20 June 1949. This conference dealt mainly with the German problem, which revolved largely around the Big Four's inability to agree on terms for a peace treaty for that country. The meeting at Paris had been agreed to by the United States, Great Britain, and France in return for Soviet agreement to drop the blockade of Berlin, which had been begun in 1948 in protest against the Western powers' decision to create an independent West Germany. At the conference the West rejected a Soviet plan for German reunification, and the Soviets turned down a Western proposal for extension of the new West German constitution to East Germany.

In 1959 the heads of state of the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union agreed to hold a summit conference in Paris in May 1960 to discuss the mutual reduction of tensions. This conference had been agreed to as an outcome of Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev's determination to sign a peace treaty with the East Germans that would have impaired Western access rights to Berlin. Plans for the conference went awry two weeks before its opening when an American reconnaissance aircraft (the U-2) was shot down over the Soviet Union. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to disavow responsibility or apologize for the flight, Khrushchev dramatically refused to participate in the summit conference and canceled an invitation for Eisenhower to visit the Soviet Union.

The longest series of negotiations at Paris in which the United States participated was the talks regarding the settlement of the Vietnam War, which began in 1968 and did not end until 1973. Following President Lyndon B. Johnson's agreement to restrict the bombing of North Vietnam and his withdrawal from the presidential campaign in March 1968, the North Vietnamese agreed to meet with the Americans at Paris to discuss a settlement of the war. The talks were later broadened to include the contending parties in South Vietnam: the South Vietnamese government and the National Liberation Front. In 1969 Henry Kissinger, then the special adviser for national security affairs to President Richard M. Nixon, began secret meetings at Paris with the North Vietnamese politburo member Le Duc Tho. These meetings were made public early in 1972, and by the fall of that year had brought the two sides close to agreement. Differences of interpretation arose that led to a temporary suspension of the talks in December 1972, before the peace settlement of 1973.


Beschloss, Michael R. MAYDAY: Eisenhower, Khruschev, and the U-2 Affair. New York: Harper and Row, 1986.

Gaddis, John Lewis. The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

John LewisGaddis/t. g.

See alsoCold War ; Germany, American Occupation of ; Germany, Relations with ; Russia, Relations with .