441.11 W 892/56

The British Ambassador ( Howard ) to the Secretary of State

No. 413

My Dear Mr. Secretary: With reference to recent correspondence and interviews relative to the general claims situation, I have the honour to inform you that I did not fail to make known to His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the substance of my conversations on the morning of the 6th [5th] instant with you, and later with Mr. Olds and Mr. Phenix, when we discussed in detail your proposal to send Mr. Phenix to London and [Page 239] the misapprehension to which that proposal had given rise. I advised Sir Austen Chamberlain that your suggestion had been put forward in a most sincere and friendly effort to arrive at an amicable solution of the numerous difficulties the situation presented, explaining to him that the whole object of Mr. Phenix’s suggested journey to London was simply to obtain information, not elsewhere available, regarding the disposal of certain cargoes and consignments of goods shipped from this country to Europe during the course of the war, and, by informal discussion of the status of such cargoes and consignments, to reduce to the lowest dimensions the actual claims in which your Government might feel disposed to take an interest, thus arranging, if possible, for the settlement of such claims as are agreed by both Governments to be meritorious. I laid stress on the assurances I had received from you, from Mr. Olds and from Mr. Phenix that all publicity would be avoided in connection with the visit since we all recognised that publicity would almost certainly defeat the friendly purposes you had in view.

I am now directed by Sir Austen Chamberlain to inform you that he fully appreciates and reciprocates the friendly spirit in which you have approached this difficult matter. He also holds strongly to the opinion that any publicity respecting the informal examinations that have been taking place or those informal enquiries or discussions that may take place during Mr. Phenix’s stay in London would, in all probability, create in the mind of Congress or of Parliament or of the general public of both countries serious misunderstandings with regard to the attitude of either or both Governments in the matter of the so-called blockade claims. In all the conversations and correspondence between us I have, with a view to the removal of all doubt as to the position of His Majesty’s Government, made it clear that they could not, and why they could not, consider blockade claims and you will appreciate that their attitude in that regard remains unaltered. His Majesty’s Government are, however, endeavouring in all sincerity to meet the friendly intentions of the President of the United States and of yourself in avoiding all unnecessary controversy. When a visit to London by Mr. Phenix was originally suggested, it was expected, in the first place, that the preliminary joint examination by Mr. Broderick and himself of the files of correspondence in the State Department archives hitherto known as “claims” files would have been concluded this month and, in the second place, that Mr. Phenix’s visit would synchronize with visits from representatives of the United States Navy Department commissioned to settle mutual claims between that Department, the Admiralty and other Departments of His Majesty’s Government. Mr. Phenix himself felt that the visit of the Navy Department representatives would be helpful in [Page 240] deflecting public attention from his own visit and preventing any misconstruction of it. It was because the journey of the Navy Department’s delegates had been postponed on their own initiative that Sir Austen Chamberlain hesitated to accept the date of the 10th June as a suitable moment for the departure of Mr. Phenix. He felt, moreover, that it would be much better that Mr. Phenix before his departure should have sifted all the files of claims correspondence that remained to be examined since he would then be in a position to know more precisely the nature and extent of the information which His Majesty’s Government might be able to place at his disposal, and would have very greatly reduced his list by the elimination of files which presented no claims at all or which put forward demands not considered by the Government of the United States to be worth putting forward.

I gathered during our conversations that, the original date of Mr. Phenix’s departure having been deferred, you would be agreeable to its further postponement until after the preliminary examination of all the files had been completed. This course appears to Sir Austen Chamberlain to be preferable from every point of view, especially as he still feels that it would be advisable to make Mr. Phenix’s visit coincide with that of the officials of the Navy Department in accordance with your original suggestion. He hopes you will concur in this opinion, and accept his assurances that he is prepared to cooperate with you in every way for the purpose of determining the status of the claims then sifted, arriving at a prima facie classification and reaching a satisfactory understanding for the settlement of non-blockade claims. He is also prepared to instruct Mr. Broderick to proceed to London with Mr. Phenix to assist him in securing the particulars he desires and to continue their informal discussions respecting the classification of the claims.

Believe me [etc.]

Esme Howard