811.7353b W 52/68: Telegram

The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Harvey ) to the Secretary of State


53. Department’s telegram 37 of February 17. Late yesterday afternoon I had a conversation with Curzon. Toward the close of the interview I told him that a matter was still pending between our countries which I thought should be got out of the way at once. I said that in fact the situation had become acute and therefore the need of a settlement was pressing. I referred to the landing concessions in the Azores which were desired by American interests. He replied, as I expected, that the matter had not come to his attention since an unfinished conversation between us. What was the situation now? I outlined it in brief and also said that my Government had just sent me a concise but comprehensive statement which I would submit tomorrow morning for his consideration. My reference was to Department’s instruction 799 of February 3.

He said that was very good. He retained a fair understanding of the matter in his memory, he thought, but would like to have me recite the salient points to refresh his recollection. (My purpose was admirably served by this hackneyed but always charming method of trapping incautious novices as it helped to bring matters quickly to a head.)

I replied that my understanding of the situation was as follows: American cable companies wished to land cables on the Azores and had tried without success to obtain the necessary permission from various Portuguese Governments. The existing Portuguese Government is willing to grant these concessions in order to obtain revenues and additional facilities but is unable to do so on account of the opposition which the British Government is offering in the interest of Sir John Pender’s Company which insisted that it retain monopolistic privileges.

Curzon declared instantly that certainly the exclusive rights of the British Government should be conserved, in spite of America’s open-door theories. What were these British rights? Was I informed? I was happily able to tell him that whatever monopolistic [Page 281] rights had originally existed expired in 1908. If he still had any doubts on that point he could consult Sir John himself.

(Yesterday morning, incidentally, I saw a letter to that effect signed by Sir John.)

I continued that consequently the situation in brief is this: Great Britain, a friendly power, keeps Portugal, a neutral power, from carrying out her wishes in granting equal telegraph facilities to America, another friendly power, because Great Britain desires to keep a monopoly which in law she no longer possesses, and to bring about this result Great Britain makes use of the financial obligations which Portugal, her friend and ally, is under to her in order to keep America from exercising her just and natural prerogative. Thus Portugal is placed by Great Britain in a state of vassalage, and America, Britain’s friend, is again placed in a state of doubt and suspicion such as she was in before the statement on the debt.

I added that my understanding might of course be inconclusive but if not I could not see how the British attitude could be regarded either as wise or defensible.

In reply Curzon said that his memory was somewhat hazy, as he had remarked; but, nevertheless, on account of my insistence that the subject be disposed of before the end of the present session of the Portuguese Parliament, he would promptly attend to the matter.