867.602 Ot 81/264: Telegram
The High Commissioner at Constantinople (Bristol) to the Secretary of State
[Received 10:45 p.m.]
111. Your 67, April 12,57 and 69, April 13.58 Barnes59 arrived yesterday from Angora. He confirms the report that the Grand National Assembly accepted the Chester project on April 10, the vote being 141 to 16.
Department will receive latest complete text of Chester project available and also memorandum of agricultural agreement in my despatch 731, March 27,57 which left here on March 29. The numerous minor changes made by the four commissions of the Assembly which examined this project are not shown in this text. In the Assembly itself a few changes in detail were made, chiefly in shortening the periods of time allowed for exercising the rights of option. As an example, the time within which a decision must be reached as to undertaking the Samsoun–Sivas line has been fixed at 6 months. Rights respecting the importation of coal are limited to 10 instead [Page 1203] of to 20 years. Work on the Taurus line is to start at Oulakushla and move toward Angora instead of vice versa. In general the changes made both by the Assembly and commissions affect the subsidiary lines which are now included in the project, but the plans for the main lines of the original project were adopted in nearly the same form as when they were discussed first last summer. In a few days a correct text of the agreements as finally adopted will be published in Angora. As soon as possible I will send copies to the Department. The competent government authorities have signed the agricultural agreement, which has gone into effect. Tomorrow I will telegraph a brief summary.
With respect to Department’s views, as set forth in its telegram 69 of April 13, I venture to make the following observations:
- The Turks seem inclined to resent French protests filed in Angora by Mougin and here by Pellé. They maintain that they have acted within their sovereign rights in adopting a project which they consider of immense importance for the development of Turkey and they point out that the Turkish Chamber of Deputies never properly ratified the concession of the Samsoun-Sivas line in 1914 to the French. The French propaganda campaign against the Chester project has exasperated the Turks.…
- I am investigating the facts regarding the French concession, which at present are by no means clear. I rather think the obligation, if there is any, is more moral than legal.
- It is entirely possible that the French protests are not sincere but are primarily intended to supply material with which to bargain at Lausanne. The French have much to ask with their concessionary companies, their schools, and their interest in the debt. It will be a great convenience, therefore, to have something to yield.
- For us to volunteer settlement through friendly understanding or arbitration at present would, in my judgment, be nothing short of disastrous. The Turks would certainly be irritated at such a gratuitous move, and it could not fail to be injurious to the carrying out of the Chester concession. Our prestige in years to come throughout the Near East will depend on the way in which this project is carried out. The consequences for all American philanthropy, as well as business in the Near East, will be most deplorable if a false move is made at this time.
- The mineral rights granted in the Chester concession merely take the place of kilometric guarantees. The projected railroads are not expected to begin to earn profits for many years. In the construction of some of the transcontinental lines in the United States a similar arrangement was made.
- It is known in the Department that I have always been guarded in my attitude toward the Chester project, being afraid that the [Page 1204] people behind it might not be able to make good their promises. However, now that the Turks have adopted the project and the French have seen fit to make more open and formal the hostility which they have shown at Angora and Constantinople constantly for the last nine months, it would be a severe blow to American business initiative and prestige should the American Government fail to back the Chester concession with all the effective support which is compatible with the Open-Door policy and instead make a hasty offer of compromise and arbitration for the settlement of a grievance which may be shown to be nothing of the kind by investigation and the coming negotiations at Lausanne. It is my earnest hope that the Department will show the utmost circumspection and reticence regarding the French protests, and above all will take no action until the true facts of the 1914 concession and the motives for these protests can be thoroughly investigated and appreciated.