Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State ( Messersmith )

In accord with the suggestion of the Secretary conveyed to me by Mr. Dunn, I got in touch with the Soviet Ambassador who came to see me today so that I could give him an answer with regard to his inquiry44 on our plans for using the ground in Moscow placed at our disposal some time ago by the Soviet Government. In accord with Mr. Dunn’s request, I took this occasion to leave with the Ambassador the memorandum of the conversation which the Secretary had with the Ambassador some days ago.

In handing the Ambassador this memorandum, I told him that we were also concerned with the disappearance of several members of the clerical staff of our Embassy in Moscow, which disappearance interfered with the proper functioning of our Embassy. I said that we naturally could not have all of our personnel there American and that we had to have some Soviet clerks. The disappearance of several of these clerks without any explanation naturally caused us concern as well as disturbed the functioning of the establishment.

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With respect to our building plans in Moscow, I said to the Ambassador that they were naturally influenced by the developments which had taken place and by these considerations which the Secretary had brought to his attention. The Soviet Government had placed at our disposal a plot of ground which seemed quite admirably suited for the purpose we had in mind. We had immediately secured the necessary funds from the Congress for the erection of a proper building. We had gone ahead with the preparation of plans and had put a good deal of money into preliminary arrangements. When we came to actual progress so many obstacles were placed in our way by the Soviet authorities, which obstacles he was familiar with, that we had to abandon the idea and we had used the money originally allocated for the Moscow building for another purpose. We naturally could not contemplate proceeding again and making further expenditures until we had every assurance that we could really make progress in a normal way this time.

With respect to his specific inquiry, I could not give him any answer as to when we could proceed. We would naturally prefer the Soviet Government to keep this ground available for us but if it wished to use it for its own purposes or to make it available to some other Government, we could not protest or object. I thought that as soon as we had adequate assurances in which we could have every confidence that we could really proceed with the erection of a building in the manner we proceed in other capitals, we would be prepared to ask the Congress for money again, but with the circumstances with which we were faced now we could not do this.

The Ambassador replied that he thought there had been a good deal of misunderstanding about these difficulties and that the conversations had gotten into a snarl “through both sides getting nervous”. I told him that I had gone into the record and that the difficulties which we had met were so real that we could not possibly have proceeded. The Ambassador answered that he was very anxious that these difficulties which might exist be removed.

He asked specifically whether, if they held the ground for us for another year, I thought we might make further progress on plans. I told him that I could give him no specific assurances of what we could do in a specified time. We would have to ask the Congress for money again and then we would have to proceed with plans and, of course, before we did this we would need to be certain that our efforts would not again prove in vain. We would have to be very certain that we would be able to make real progress and carry through the erection of the building, its furnishings, et cetera, without any more of the difficulties which we had previously experienced. We would have to be able to build the building, import material, pay labor and carry through construction in the way in which we were accustomed to do it in other [Page 633] capitals and in accord with our usual procedure. If the Soviet Government could give us adequate assurances on this basis, we could make our plans accordingly but not until then.

The Ambassador left me with the impression that he would recommend to his Government that they hold the ground for us for another year. I did not give him any specific assurances as to what we would do.

I discussed with him generally and informally at the close of the foregoing conversation, the difficulties which we had in the operation of our establishment in Moscow and which the Secretary had brought to his attention. I emphasized that these were very real and that we were under the necessity, on account of the high cost of the establishment and the difficulties which it experienced in functioning, of considering reducing our staff materially. He said that he would look into all these matters.

G. S. Messersmith
  1. See the memorandum of December 30, 1937, by Assistant Secretary of State Messersmith, p. 453.