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Foreign Ministers, Council of

Foreign Ministers, Council of, organization of the foreign ministers of the World War II Allies—the United States, Great Britain, France, and the USSR—that, in a long series of meetings, attempted to reach political settlements after the war. In accordance with the agreements reached at the Potsdam Conference, the ministers of Great Britain, the USSR, and the United States met in London and then at Moscow in 1945 in efforts to conclude peace treaties with those countries that had aided Germany's aggression.

In the first meeting at London there was a great deal of conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States over the latter's role in the occupation of Japan, and little was accomplished. At the Moscow Conference it was decided to draft peace treaties with Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Finland and to establish an 11-power Far Eastern Commission and a 4-power Allied Council for Japan. Despite difficulties and protracted quarrels over procedure, the council (to which France was admitted in 1946) reached agreement at the next conference in Paris (1946). The final peace treaties with Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland were drafted, and the remaining difficulties concerning the Free Territory of Trieste were resolved at another meeting in New York (Nov.–Dec., 1946).

In Mar.–Apr., 1947, the foreign ministers met again in Moscow to discuss peace treaties with Germany and Austria, but the only agreement reached was on the formal dissolution of the Land [state] of Prussia (a large part of which had already been annexed by the Soviet Union and Poland). Another attempt to reach agreement on Germany and Austria failed when the foreign ministers met at London (Nov.–Dec., 1947); at this meeting there was a marked deterioration in the relations between the USSR and the other three powers. A new meeting (Sept., 1948) at Paris, regarding the disposition of the former Italian colonies, also reached no conclusions.

The council was revived in May–June, 1949, when the foreign ministers, meeting at Paris, reached an agreement ending the Soviet blockade of Berlin but again failed to agree on German reunification. In Jan.–Feb., 1954, the foreign ministers met in Berlin to discuss German reunification and an Austrian peace treaty. Although this conference ended in deadlock, the ministers agreed to the calling of the Geneva Conference of 1954 to discuss "peaceful settlement of the Korean question." They agreed on an Austrian peace treaty the following year in Vienna. The foreign ministers met during the Geneva Summit Conference of July, 1955, and again in Geneva later in the year. On neither occasion, however, could they reach agreement on the principal topics for discussion—German reunification, European security, and disarmament.

In 1959 tension over Berlin led to another foreign ministers' conference in Geneva. The Western powers insisted that a German peace treaty be signed only after Germany was united through free elections; that the four-power occupation of Berlin be maintained until Berlin again became the capital of a united Germany; and that any European security plan be linked to progress in German reunification. The Soviet Union proposed that West Berlin be transformed into a demilitarized free city; that separate peace treaties be signed with the two German regimes; and that a zone be established in Central Europe within which arms and troops would be limited or banned. After failing to reach any agreement the conference recessed for an indefinite period. In June, 1972, however, the foreign ministers of the four powers did sign a comprehensive agreement on Berlin, worked out over the previous two years. It regularized West Berlin's status and its relationships with East and West Germany and paved the way for East and West German entry into the United Nations and the normalization of relations between the two German states.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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