The Embassy of the Soviet Union to the Department of State 58
Memorandum of Oral Conversation
The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fully shares the desire of the Government of the United States to maintain Soviet-American relations on a close and friendly basis. This aim has been repeatedly set forth in public statements of responsible authorities in the Soviet Union and has guided the officials of the Soviet Union in their intercourse with the officials of the United States.
The Government of the United States has alluded at this moment to certain matters which have arisen during more than four years of normal relations between both countries. It would appear that the matters to which allusion is made are either of a nature requiring [Page 648] mutual adjustment by both parties or else are questions which have not been recently discussed or are now brought to the attention of the Soviet Government for the first time. In cases requiring mutual agreement a failure of solution can not be attributed to one party. In other cases the reference to certain matters must have been based on misunderstanding or erroneous information.
The Soviet Government on its part might present a list of accumulated questions which, in its estimation, might prejudice Soviet-American relations. The Soviet Government does not consider it opportune to assemble at this moment all such matters which have arisen in the course of four years of normal relations between the two countries. The Soviet Government is aware of the fact that during the same period many other matters had been adjusted to mutual satisfaction.
The Soviet Government shares the practice of the Government of the United States of providing the foreign diplomatic missions accredited to it, through the customary channels, with the information which they may require in the pursuit of their official duties. It does not appear that such facilities were denied to the Embassy of the United States in Moscow. On the contrary, these facilities were extended in a measure proportionate to the great interest shown by various American institutions in many fields of economic, social and intellectual activity in the Soviet Union. In accordance with customary procedure, the American Embassy in Moscow addresses its inquiries to the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, which either communicates available information or secures it from the appropriate departments of the Soviet Government in all cases not incompatible with public interest. As the Government of the United States must be aware, the American Embassy in Moscow maintains direct and regular contact with various departments and institutions in the Soviet Union. To mention but a few instances, the diplomatic officers of the American Embassy have on different occasions visited and conferred with the People’s Commissariats of Foreign Trade, of Finance, of Agriculture, of Food Industry, the Committee for Physical Culture, the Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries etc. On its part, the Embassy of the Soviet Union in Washington endeavors to be of the utmost assistance to the numerous American governmental, public and private institutions making inquiry about the Soviet Union and enjoys the full cooperation of Soviet authorities in obtaining all possible information.
In it [It is?] intimated that the diplomatic officers of the Embassy of the United States have experienced difficulties in their movements within the territory of the Soviet Union; that they do not have ready access to the officials of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and, in one specific case, were subjected to uncourteous treatment [Page 649] by the officials of the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. Upon inquiry, it appears, that the officers of the Embassy of the United States have not been denied facilities in visiting various parts of the Soviet Union, but were given full assistance, as, for instance, in the case of the journey of the Ambassador of the United States, Mr. Joseph Davies, accompanied by the members of his staff and by the representatives of the American press, through various industrial regions of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Ambassador in Washington understands that the American Ambassador has stated both publicly and in private conversation that he and his party were given courteous and cordial reception and assistance by central and local authorities throughout the Soviet Union. The abovementioned statements of Ambassador Davies were understood to have referred equally to his cordial contacts with various departments and personalities in Moscow. Ambassador Davies had intended further visits to agricultural regions of the Union and the authorities were glad to assure him of their full cooperation in making such journeys as interesting and comfortable as possible. It might be added, that officers of the American Embassy, in particular Mr. Kennan, Mr. Durbrow and Lieut. Col. Faymonville, have visited various parts of the Union and extended some of their travels as far as the Far Eastern Region of the USSR.
Not a single case is known in which officers of the American Embassy had difficulty in access to the officials of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. The Ambassador of the United States, or the Chargé d’Affaires, were never denied a reception by the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs or by one of the Assistant Commissars. The Third Western Division of the Commissariat, which has charge of the relations with the United States, in the person of its Director or Assistant Director, receives the officers of the American Embassy on the same day whenever they express a desire to visit this Division. The Consular service of the American Embassy is in daily contact with the Consular Division of the Commissariat. No instance is known when officials of the American Embassy were refused reception by any other Division.
With respect to the allegedly uncourteous treatment of an officer of the American Embassy by an official of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Loy Henderson was most emphatic in assuring Mr. Weinberg, Director of the Third Western Division, that no such incident ever occurred and that any such report must have been based on misunderstanding.
In view of the above, and referring to that part of the Memorandum of Oral Conversation,59 which concerns the intercourse and mutual [Page 650] information and contacts between the two Governments and their officials, the Soviet Government fails to see in the daily practice of the relations between the two countries, as far as the Soviet Union is concerned, any evidence of “an atmosphere in which close and friendly relations are impossible of development”.
The American Government having alluded to certain specific matters which have arisen at different periods of Soviet-American relations wherein the American Government feels that it has not always been accorded the full cooperation of the Soviet Government, the following information is provided in the order of those matters as listed in the Memorandum:
- The settlement of debts and claims. The Soviet Government does not feel that failure up to the present to arrive at a settlement has been due to a lack of cooperation on its part, but, as before, attributes the inconclusive outcome of the negotiations to differences in interpretation of the understanding reached between the President and Mr. Litvinov and considers the interpretation given on the American side a departure from this understanding. The absence of a settlement of this question does not in itself constitute, in the opinion of the Soviet Government, an obstacle to the development of close and friendly relations between the two countries. In a statement made to a representative of the Tass Agency on March 1, 1935, Mr. Litvinov expressed the belief of the Soviet Government, that the failure of the negotiations to bring the desired result “must not affect the relations between the two countries” and added: “The USSR and the USA as other peace loving countries, are confronted with more serious general objects for which it is possible to work without injuring the material claims between countries. The difficulty of solving mutual monetary claims between various countries has now become a general phenomenon of international life, but it does not interfere with international cooperation in the development of trade relations or in the preservation of peace”.
- Procurement of Soviet currency for the use of the American Mission in Moscow. The Soviet Government is the more surprised to find this matter among those to which allusion is made in the abovementioned Memorandum, in as much as the American Embassy in Moscow enjoys full opportunity for obtaining Soviet currency through unlimited exchange of foreign currency against the currency of the Soviet Union at existing rates.60 The Soviet Government has established its exchange rates in accordance with its fixed financial policy. The Soviet Government does not believe that it should interpret the raising of this question as an indication that the Government [Page 651] of the United States desires to suggest a change in the fixed financial policy of a foreign Government. The Soviet Government and its diplomatic representations abroad have frequently, as probably have likewise the missions of the American Government, experienced inconveniences and additional expenses due to the existing exchange rates or their fluctuations in various capitals of the world, but it has not made or received requests to establish for diplomatic representatives special exchange rates differing from those generally and legally existing. It might be added that the American Government succeeded in maintaining its diplomatic mission in Moscow at a relatively lower cost, than that incurred by the Soviet Government for the maintenance of its Embassy in Washington, taking into consideration the comparatively more numerous staff of the American Embassy in Moscow. There is of course no discrimination whatsoever in the treatment of the American Embassy in Moscow in regard to questions of currency, as compared to other foreign missions accredited to the Government of the Union.
- The delimitation of the Consular District of the American Consulate General in Moscow. This question has not been mentioned by the American Government since early in 1934,61 when the American Embassy in Moscow informed the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs of its intention to open a Consulate General in Moscow and requested to specify in its Exequatur, that the consular jurisdiction of the abovementioned Consulate covers the whole of the territory of the Soviet Union. In the course of negotiations which followed the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs explained to the American Embassy, that such unlimited Exequatur would not be compatible with the practice of consular services in the Soviet Union. Thereafter the American Embassy brought to the knowledge of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs that it intended to establish within the Embassy a Consular Division. The jurisdiction of this Consular Division extends in fact to the whole of the territory of the Soviet Union. In the course of the past four years this question has not been reopened from the American side, nor has the Soviet Government been informed of any intention of the American Government to establish Consulates in the Soviet Union.
- The plans of the Government of the United States to construct in Moscow a “building housing its representatives in that capital. As early as in 1934 a location was offered to, and has been since held for, the Embassy of the United States for this purpose. Conversations between the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and the American Embassy were conducted with the aim of settling various questions referring to the conditions under which, in compliance with existing [Page 652] laws, the construction had to be accomplished. While in the course of those conversations several questions arose which had to be settled by mutual agreement, there were no insurmountable difficulties which could have prevented the construction, and the conversations in question have not been concluded, not because of such difficulties, but because of their suspension by the American side. The absence of serious difficulties is evidenced both by the fact of the recent construction of a new building of the Finnish Legation in Moscow and by the interest shown in the site assigned to the American Embassy by various other diplomatic missions intending the construction of new buildings. The Soviet Ambassador in Washington more recently had the honor to bring to the attention of Mr. Messersmith, Assistant Secretary of State, the fact that the municipal authorities in Moscow, in view of the exceptional demand for building space in the fast growing capital, is compelled to consider whether it can hold the very large site assigned to the disposal of the American Embassy beyond the construction season of 1938. The Ambassador has been now informed by the Soviet of the City of Moscow that the abovementioned site will be held at the disposal of the American Embassy until January 1, 1939.
- Regime of inspection of personal effects of diplomatic officers upon their departure from the Soviet Union and imposition upon certain of these effects of export duties. The personal effects of diplomatic officers are not submitted to any inspection in cases when those personal effects are exported or imported simultaneously with the departure or entry of a diplomatic officer, holding a “laissez passer”, and the latter are issued by the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs in a liberal manner. Personal effects of diplomatic officers are inspected by custom authorities only when not accompanied by their owners and export duties are applied only against certain antiques and against valuable rugs. All other effects and the personal luggage of diplomatic officers is free of duty. The same is not in all cases true of the procedure applied by the Custom authorities of the United States to Soviet citizens, not excepting Members of the Soviet Government, who upon their landing in New York had to submit their personal luggage to inspection,62 in spite of presentation of their diplomatic passports and “laissez passer” letters issued by the Embassy of the United States in Moscow. It might be added that American diplomatic officers in Moscow take advantage of their privilege [Page 653] to bring in, without inspection or duties, various articles which are imported in considerable amounts. At the same time, it appears that in certain cases when large amounts of personal effects were submitted, by many diplomatic officers, for inspection all at one time, custom authorities in Moscow have not made this inspection with the desirable expedition and delays have occurred. It is learned that regrettable delay occurred in the inspection of the effects of the attaché of the American Embassy in Moscow Dr. Rumreich. Appropriate measures have been taken to secure a speedier functioning of custom formalties.
- Delay and difficulty, experienced by Americans, including diplomats, in obtaining Soviet visas of entry and exit and nonadmission to the Soviet Union of bearers of valid Soviet visas. No difficulties in granting visas to American diplomatic officers are known to the Soviet Government or to its Embassy or Consulates in the United States, nor were any specific cases ever brought to their attention. No difficulties are experienced by American nationals, bearers of valid American passports in obtaining exit visas upon their departure from the Soviet Union. Finally, no cases are known to Soviet authorities in which American nationals, bearers of valid American passports and valid Soviet visas, have ever been refused entrance into the Soviet Union. If reference is made to American nationals aboard vessels visiting Soviet harbors on tourist cruises, who, in very few instances, may not have been permitted to enter Soviet territory, it should be pointed out that participants in such tourist cruises do not obtain Soviet visas at all and admission on Soviet territory remains entirely at the discretion of Soviet authorities upon the arrivals of the cruising boat. Tourists, bearers of valid passports and regular tourist visae, have no difficulty in entering or leaving the country, as has been the experience of thousands of American tourists. The applications of other American nationals, holders of valid American passports, for entry into the Soviet Union have been examined with all possible expediency and it is the practice of Soviet authorities to pay special attention to applications of American nationals, which, as a rule, are answered within a period of two weeks, with exception of some cases requiring further inquiries. It has been established that only in one specific case entry to the Soviet Union has been refused an American national who originally was granted a Soviet visa. An American citizen, Mr. Korjella, who was in possession of a Soviet visa, asked, in September 1937, the Consulate General of the Soviet Union in New York to extend the validity of that visa which has expired. The prolongation was granted. Upon arrival in London, Mr. Korjella informed the Consular Division of the Soviet Embassy in London, that [Page 654] during his transocean journey he has lost his American national passport and requested a new visa of entry. Under the circumstances, entry this time was refused. It should be added that Soviet authorities have in the recent past made frequent exemptions from existing passport and visa regulations for the benefit of American nationals, as for instance, in the case of an American anthropological expedition headed by Professor Hrdlička and consisting of six members. This expedition has been admitted to the Commodore Islands in the summer of 1937 in spite of absence of American passports and regular Soviet visae. Ambassador Davies’ personal friends who accompanied him aboard his yacht on several trips to Leningrad were allowed entry in spite of absence of Soviet visae. Other similar exceptions typifying the attitude of Soviet authorities toward American nationals could be enumerated. It appears doubtful whether in similar cases foreign nationals not equipped with regular passports or visae would have been as freely admitted to other countries. It might be added that incomparably more American nationals are admitted to enter the Soviet Union than Soviet nationals in respect to the United States.
- Inspection of drawings, plans etc. which American technical men in employ or in negotiation with Soviet authorities desire to take out of the country with them. During more than four years of the functioning of the American Embassy in Moscow the latter had only one occasion to address the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs on such a matter, namely, in the case of an American engineer, Mr. Wood, who was in the employ of “Glavzoloto” (The Central Administration of the Gold Industry) and, upon departure, has left some of his belongings with the said Administration, with the request that they be forwarded to New York. Because of a delay in the receipt of those belongings the American Embassy requested an inquiry by the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. It appeared that, while most of Mr. Wood’s belonging (books and other effects) have been sent to him, drawings and plans were retained. Those materials, as has been established, referred to the reconstruction of factories in Kolchugino and to some other industrial entreprises and, as officially stated by the Central Administration of the Gold Industry, constituted Soviet industrial property. These facts were communicated to and acknowledged by the American Embassy in Moscow. No other cases of retaining such materials were brought to the attention of Soviet authorities.
- Received in the Department April 28, 1938, in an envelope addressed to Pierrepont Moffat, Chief of the Division of European Affairs.↩
- See memorandum of January 13, 1938, by the Secretary of State, p. 624, especially p. 625.↩
- Regarding ruble exchange rates, see paragraphs 12 and 13 in Embassy’s despatch No. 12, March 28, 1934, pp. 71, 74.↩
- See Embassy’s despatch No. 65, May 29, 1934, p. 102.↩
Marginal notation by Orsen N. Nielsen, Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs: “This deals with customs inspection upon arrival in the U[nited] S[tates].
“We have protested against export duties levied on effects of American officials upon their departure from the Soviet Union, The Ambassador’s remarks have no bearing on the point made by us.”↩