The Acting Secretary of State to the Brazilian Chargé (Ipanema Moreira)

My Dear Mr. Chargé d’Affaires: I beg to acknowledge your letter of January 12, 1920,28 enclosing a translation of the cable just received by you from your Government relative to the German ships seized in Brazilian ports.

I note that your Government desires certain and immediate information as to whether the United States would support the claims of Brazil in case the ships should be sold and France refuse to deliver them.

I draw your attention to the decision of the Organization Committee of the Reparation Commission of October 2, 1919,29 which was concurred in by the representative of the United States, that none of the countries represented on the Commission should negotiate or support the negotiations of its nationals for the purchase of the Brazilian ships before the matter of the jurisdiction of these vessels came up for adjudication by the Reparation Commission. If it is so desired Mr. Rathbone will be asked to press for immediate consideration of the question.

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My Government, though unable to take a position in regard to the construction of the treaty with Germany while yet a non-ratifying Power, is inclined to believe that there is considerable force in the probable construction of the Allies that it was the intention of the framers of the treaty to deal with matters relative to the disposition of German shipping in Annex 3, Part 8 of the Treaty, except where otherwise specifically mentioned; and that Article 297 of the Treaty was intended to cover only the disposition of property on land. If this view is finally adopted by my Government, the unofficial representative of this Government on the Reparation Commission, if his opinion on this matter were to be asked by the other Allied representatives, would be unable to lend support to a construction of the treaty which would contemplate the establishment of title to German ships on the provisions of Article 297.

My Government, however, as stated in the Department’s Memorandum of January 12, 1920, is ready to lend support to the claims of Brazil in accordance with the terms of the Wilson–Lloyd-George Agreement of May last. It is felt that if there exists any doubt in the mind of the Brazilian Government as to whether title was validly acquired under international law by the requisition of these ships, Brazil might well make her claims under the Wilson–Lloyd-George Agreement. If it should result that France could not be persuaded to recognize the agreement as relating to Brazil, France could not claim, except possibly on some right arising from the charter agreement, more than her proportional share of the ships.

If your Government is fully satisfied that by the act of requisition, title was effectively taken over by Brazil, claims to the vessels might be made by the Brazilian Government based on her right acquired under international law. Such claims, in the opinion of my Government, will, if substantiated, exclude the ships from the operation of Annex 3, Part 8 of the Treaty, and if on examination of the facts it should appear that Brazil has good foundation for the claim to title to the ships under international law, the United States would be willing to support the principle involved as it would be consistent with the interpretation of the treaty expressed confidentially above. In this connection also note Article 439 and Article 440 of the Treaty.

As to the support of the claim by Brazil for return of the chartered ships by the French, my Government can give no opinion without full information as to the terms of the charter agreement and other understandings with France under which the vessels in question are now held.

I am [etc.]

Frank L. Polk
  1. Not printed.
  2. See telegram no. 40, Jan. 5, from the Ambassador in France, paragraph (2), p. 508.