661.11241/38: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kirk)

171. Your 375, November 2, 9 p.m. [a.m.].

The Department feels that it is not in a position to insist that merchandise imported into the Soviet Union for the use of members of the Embassy staff be addressed to them individually. It suggests, therefore, that if the shipments referred to in paragraph 2 of your telegram have not as yet been released and unless the Embassy is able [Page 666] by its own efforts to prevail upon the Soviet authorities to release them they be exported and readdressed from abroad to the chief of mission.
Since the Department takes the view that neither the chief of mission nor the Embassy is liable for the payment of duties upon merchandise listed in the registration book it does not desire to raise objections to the entry into that book of official supplies.
You are instructed, unless you perceive some objection thereto, to address a note to the Commissar for Foreign Affairs in the following sense:

“I have the honor to state that I am instructed by my Government to inform you that it has come to the attention of my Government that the Soviet customs authorities are requiring that American governmental supplies imported into the Soviet Union for the official use of this mission be entered, together with the amount of duties payable thereon, into a special registration book which is also employed by such authorities for keeping a record of all merchandise imported into the Soviet Union for the use of the chief and members of the mission.

In order to guard against the possibility of a future misunderstanding, my Government desires me to inform you that it does not consider that itself, the chief of mission, or the Embassy is in any way liable for the payment of customs duties upon merchandise imported into the Soviet Union by the chief of mission or by the Embassy for the official use of the mission or for the personal use of the chief of mission or members of his official or household staff who are American citizens.

My Government also desires me to add that it is sure that the Soviet Government will understand that the American diplomatic representation in the Soviet Union would have great difficulty in properly carrying out its functions if restrictions, including levying of customs duties, would be imposed upon its freedom in importing from abroad supplies for its official use or for the personal use of its members.”

No quantitative or other restrictions have thus far been laid by this Government upon the merchandise which the Chief of the Soviet diplomatic mission in Washington may import free of duty either for his own use or for that of the Soviet members of his household or official staff. If you deem it advisable to do so you may mention this fact when discussing the note with officials of the Foreign Office. Since the refusal to grant the usual customs courtesies would result in much greater hardship for our Embassy in Moscow than for the Soviet Embassy in Washington it is suggested that not too much emphasis be placed upon the matter of reciprocity. You may point out in your discretion, however, that you understand that the American Government would be greatly disturbed if the Soviet Government should decide not to extend to the American Embassy in Moscow the customs courtesies which American diplomatic missions are accustomed to receive in other countries and which are deemed essential for the effective functioning of American representation in Moscow. [Page 667] You are also at liberty to add orally that the State Department is surprised that a question of this nature should arise since according to its understanding Mr. Litvinov had given oral assurances while in the United States in November 1933 that American diplomatic and consular officers and employees assigned to the Soviet Union would be accorded duty-free import privileges for articles imported into the Soviet Union for their personal consumption.
It would be preferable for the Embassy not to discuss the note with members of other diplomatic missions and not to participate in any collective action in the matter without prior reference to the Department.