The Ambassador in Spain (Laughlin) to the Secretary of State

No. 174

Sir: Pursuant to the instructions you were so good as to issue following my telegram No. 41 of August 25, 12 Noon,54 the Diplomatic Agent at Tangier came to see me at San Sebastian and went over with me the question of our Claims in the Spanish Zone of Morocco. I had already examined in detail more than once the voluminous correspondence in the Embassy’s files on this subject, but my conversations with Mr. Maxwell Blake prepared me far better to deal with it. I am much gratified to have had the benefit of his explanations and views.

I suggested to Mr. Blake that on his way back to Tangier he stop in Madrid to talk informally at the Ministry of State with certain under-officials in the Moroccan Division, and on the 21st of this month I went up from San Sebastian to Madrid to discuss the matter with Señor Barcenas, the Under Secretary of State, with whom I have a close and friendly acquaintance that began many years ago. The Duke of Alba is not within reach at present, and in any case I have preferred to treat with Señor Barcenas who is the administrative head of the Spanish Foreign Office. I had a conversation of an hour and a half at the Ministry of State with Señor Barcenas yesterday, during which I went completely over the ground covered by your instructions No. 5 of January 18, 1930, and No. 75 of August 6, following, and I have the honor to summarize very briefly the results.

I told him that I thought there had been so much written on this subject over a number of years that the issue was beginning to be seriously confused, and that I thought it might be possible to reach a settlement by clearing the ground of accumulated details and regarding the matter squarely as one that reduced itself to our desire to have the claims settled, and the Spanish desire to have our recognition of their sphere of influence.

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I suggested, however, that much had been accomplished by the examination of the question by Mr. Maxwell Blake and Señor Pla, and that it would not do to throw all that overboard. I went into Mr. Blake’s contention that he and Señor Pla had been furnished with full powers by their respective Governments to settle the question between them, and to this Señor Barcenas replied in the most positive manner that his Government had never given Señor Pla such powers. He said that the latter had been fully authorized to negotiate with Mr. Blake for a settlement but that the result of the joint negotiations had to be submitted to Madrid for approval and possible correction before a binding agreement could be made, and he showed me the copy of a note addressed on February 25, 1928 by Mr. Kellogg to Señor Padilla55 which, taken by itself, seemed to indicate nothing more extensive than an intention to clothe Mr. Blake with powers necessary to make a report. He reminded me that the last Spanish note on the subject, that of January 22, 1930, signed by Señor Palacios, which was submitted to you in my No. 49 of February 27th, had never been answered in writing, and I said that as I expected to go home on leave in October, I would go over the whole question at the Department of State and attempt to find a solution that would be mutually acceptable.

During the course of the conversation I presented all the points of principle for which you have contended and succeeded in getting Señor Barcenas to admit that his Government would no longer urge the question of our abandonment of the Capitulations in the discussion of the claims. He was not, however, willing to yield anything on the point of the Spanish objection made to the territorial item of Sidi-Dris-El-Kettani in the note of January 22, 1930, an objection which had been interjected after the Pla–Blake Joint Report, saying that these lands had been bought by the Spanish Government in good faith from the Sultan of Morocco and that the question of who had possessed the title to them before the purchase was one that must be decided by the competent courts.

I do not think the Spanish Government is unwilling to reconsider its position touching these Claims, and this is indicated by Señor Barcenas’ present attitude toward the matter of the Capitulations; but I am not confident of a desirable result in continuing written remonstrances to the Spanish Government without having the advantage of conversations at the Department in Washington which I earnestly hope I may be allowed at an early date.

Respectfully yours,

Irwin Laughlin