File No. 861.801/32
The British Ambassador (Reading) to the Secretary of State
The British Ambassador presents his compliments to the Secretary of State and has the honour to inform him of the receipt of a telegram from Mr. Balfour, stating that the British Government have been carefully considering steps necessary to control traffic by sea to and from north Russian ports, especially the trade between these ports and Norway. It appears very important in present conditions, and especially with a view to preventing supplies of valuable materials reaching the enemy by this route, that neutral traffic should be confined to the smallest possible limits and subjected as far as possible to effective Allied control.
In April 1916 the Russian Government closed the Russian Arctic coast from the Norwegian frontier to Kara Straits, and vessels were only allowed to enter this area if in possession of a permit issued by the Russian Government Committee in London and the British Admiralty. It is, of course, impossible in present conditions to secure the cooperation of Russia in enforcing these regulations. His Majesty’s Government consider, however, that it is necessary to have some basis of justification for the action of the Allied patrols in continuing to enforce the previous Russian regulation.
His Majesty’s Government propose, therefore, to notify the neutrals concerned that they still regard the prohibited area as being in force and that vessels can only proceed there if in possession of a permit to do so issued by the British Admiralty. The British authorities consider that the fact of the exclusion of the Russian Arctic from the terms of the Brest Litovsk peace treaty and recent German operations in that area are sufficient justification for the adoption of this emergency course.
The British Ambassador has received instructions to bring this matter to the attention of the United States Government, and to add that unless the United States authorities have any objection to the proposal, His Majesty’s Government propose to put in force the arrangements indicated above.
Information has reached the British authorities that the resumption of trade between Norway and north Russia is in contemplation, and it is therefore important that the intention to adopt the suggested policy should be announced at an early date. The British Ambassador would, therefore, be grateful if he could be favoured with a reply to this memorandum as soon as possible.