661.11241/40: Telegram

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

175. 1. The addition of the paragraph suggested by you is approved.

2. The position of this Government with respect to the importation free of duty of supplies for the official use of diplomatic missions may be found in paragraph 12 of chapter 7 of the Diplomatic Regulations. It will be observed that the privilege of importing such supplies duty-free arises from usage and tradition rather than from an inherent right. The Department’s experience, however, indicates that this privilege is universally extended and an examination of the Department’s records reveals no instance in which property imported for official use by its diplomatic missions abroad has been subjected to the payment of customs duties.

3. In your discretion you may point out during your conversations that this Government feels that in addition to considerations of usage and international courtesy other considerations enter into the situation at Moscow. In consequence of the shortage and exorbitant cost of merchandise in the Soviet Union and of the almost prohibitive nature of Soviet customs duties it would be impossible for the Embassy to function effectively at a reasonable cost in case the Soviet Government should refuse to permit the mission and its members to continue satisfying their official and personal needs by duty-free imports from abroad. It is therefore just as imperative that commodities destined for the personal use of the members of the mission be imported duty-free as it is for official supplies to be thus admitted.83

  1. The note was presented by the Chargé on December 14, 1938, to Vladimir Petrovich Potemkin, Vice Commissar for Foreign Affairs, who referred it to Vladimir Nikolayevich Barkov, Chief of the Protocol Division, for attention. Mr. Barkov explained on December 26, that “the Soviet Government does not regulate the duty-free entry of such supplies on a reciprocal basis” and he requested that the supplies be entered in the registration book because “there is no obligation now or in the future to pay the amounts inscribed”. Three days afterwards Mr. Barkov further explained that “the registration book of a chief of mission is a book of record and not a book of account, and that no entry in the registration book constitutes an obligation against the chief of mission, the mission or the mission’s Government.” Accordingly on January 5, 1939, the Chargé addressed a letter to the Moscow Customs authorizing the entry of these shipments of Government owned property for official use in the registration book, whereupon the goods were released without delay. (661.11241/43)