|Stalin, Truman and Churchill at Potsdam - 17 July 1945|
On 17 July 1945, the conference of Allied victors at Potsdam, outside of Berlin, began, with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, U.S. President Harry S. Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in attendance.
The issues at hand for the Big Three and their staffs were the administration of a defeated Germany; the postwar borders of Poland; the occupation of Austria; the Soviet Union's "place" in Eastern Europe; war reparations; and the continuing war in the Pacific. Various disputes broke out almost immediately, especially over the Soviet Union's demand that the western border of Poland extend into German territory, granting Poland a zone of occupation. But the four zones of occupation that had been worked out at the Yalta Conference in February were finally agreed upon, to be created in both Germany and Austria and to be controlled by the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. A council composed of representatives of the four great powers was also established to determine the fate of Germany and Austria as nations. The council was to pursue the Five D's:
- deindustrialization, and
It was also agreed that unconditional surrender would be demanded of Japan, despite a warning by the Japanese emperor that such a demand would be resisted.
Unlike previous Allied conferences, Potsdam was marked by suspicion and defensiveness on the part of the participants. Now that the war was over in the West, each nation was more concerned with its own long-term interests than that of its partners. Winston Churchill in particular was greatly suspicious of Joseph Stalin's agenda for the Soviet Union's role in Eastern Europe. Stalin refused to negotiate the future of those Eastern European nations now occupied by Soviet forces. When Churchill was informed that an election had ousted his Conservative Party from power, and that Labor's Clement Attlee was now prime minister, he returned to London. With Churchill gone from the final negotiations of the conference, the "Iron Curtain" could be heard descending across Eastern Europe.
|The Iron Curtain Boundary|
Truman described his initial meeting with the intimidating Soviet leader as cordial. "Promptly a few minutes before twelve" the president wrote, "I looked up from the desk and there stood Stalin in the doorway. I got to my feet and advanced to meet him. He put out his hand and smiled. I did the same, we shook – and we sat down." After exchanging pleasantries, the two got down to discussing post-World War II policy in Europe. The U.S. was still engaged in a war in the Pacific against Japan, and Truman wanted to get a read on Stalin's plans for the territories that he now controlled in Europe.
Truman told Stalin that his diplomatic style was straightforward and to-the-point, an admission that Truman observed had visibly pleased Stalin. Truman hoped to get the Soviets to join in the U.S. war against Japan. In return, Stalin wanted to impose Soviet control over certain territories annexed at the beginning of the war by Japan and Germany. Truman hinted that although Stalin's agenda was "dynamite" or aggressive, the U.S. now had ammunition to counter the communist leader. Truman had refrained from informing the Soviet leader about the Manhattan Project, which had just successfully tested the world's first atom bomb, but knew that the new weapon strengthened his hand. Truman referred to this secret in his diary as "some dynamite which I am not exploding now."
After their meeting, Truman, Stalin and accompanying advisors "had lunch, talked socially, [and] put on a real show, drinking toasts to everyone" and posing for photographs.
|Churchill, Truman and Stalin shake hands on 17 July 1945|
Truman closed his entry for that day on a note of confidence. "I can deal with Stalin," he wrote. "He is honest, but smart as hell."
Less than a year later, on 5 March 1946, Winston Churchill would say:
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.
|Cities on West and East sides of the Iron Curtain in 1946|