With victory near, the heads of state of the "Big Three" Allies -- Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin -- met at Yalta on the Black Sea coast Feb. 4 to 11, 1945.

On the military front, the Soviets, who were about to launch their final offensive against Germany, pressed for U.S.-Anglo advances in Italy and in the west to keep the Germans from transferring troops to the eastern front. In return, Stalin confirmed his pledge to declare war on Japan after Germany's defeat.

Political considerations, however, took center stage, particularly the questions of policy toward Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe and what to do with a defeated Germany. It had been decided earlier that Germany would be divided into occupation zones. The Soviet zone would be east of a line 200 miles west of Berlin; the American would be in south Germany, and the British would be in the northwest. At Yalta this was confirmed, and it was agreed that a portion of the U.S. zone would be carved out for the French.

Roosevelt and Churchill were able to elicit from Stalin the Declaration on Liberated Europe, a document that affirmed "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live." In Poland, specifically, the Allies agreed to "free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot."

In a secret protocol on the Far East, the three agreed that the independence of Outer Mongolia would be recognized and that the Soviets would regain southern Sakhalin Island, a leased naval base at Port Arthur (now Lushun, China), rights to an international port at Dairen (now Luda) and participation in running the Southern Manchurian and Chinese Eastern railways, all of which they had lost in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. Further, Japan was to cede the Kuril Islands to the Soviet Union.

Also discussed was the United Nations Charter, and a compromise on voting in the Security Council was reached. Stalin dropped his insistence that all 16 Soviet republics be granted seats in the General Assembly; Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to two in addition to the Soviet Union itself: Byelorussia and the Ukraine.

Most of the conference protocols were not revealed until 1946. When they became public they drew a large outcry in the United States from supporters of Poland, Nationalist China and Germany. The Republican platform of 1952 called for repudiation of all commitments resulting from the conference. The State Department published the minutes of the conference in the mid-1950s.