The Minister in Greece (MacVeagh) to the Secretary of State

No. 1111

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s instruction No. 256 of January 14, 1936, relative to the possibility of negotiating an agreement with the Greek Government which would dispose of problems arising from the conflict between Greek and American nationality laws.

The Legation has given this matter careful study and has reviewed its entire file on the subject from the year 1928. It has also consulted [Page 326] with the Consulate General and the present despatch has been prepared in collaboration with that office. Before taking action on the basis of the Department’s instruction it is felt that it would be desirable to present the following comments for the Department’s consideration. It is believed that the delay incident to this further consultation will not be prejudicial to the Department’s purpose inasmuch as the official of the Hellenic Foreign Office to whom reference was made in the Legation’s despatch No. 796 of August 28, 1935, as being favorably disposed in this manner is at present absent from the Ministry and it is the Legation’s desire, if possible, to deal with him rather than with the official who is at present temporarily taking his place in the Ministry.

Before proceeding further the Legation requests the Department’s indulgence to the end that it may in its present despatch reply to the Department’s instruction No. 257 of January 16, 1936,37 as well as to the instruction under reference.

In its instruction No. 257 of January 16, 1936, the Department instructed the Legation, in the event it had not already done so, to make representations regarding the practice on the part of the Greek officials in compelling naturalized American citizens who were born in Turkey of parents of the Greek race and who have been residing temporarily or sojourning in Greece to register as Greek citizens before being allowed to leave Greece. I may state in this connection that the Legation has repeatedly made representations of this character during the past eight years. These representations have for the most part been made in connection with the Legation’s representations relative to obligatory military service on the part of naturalized American citizens of Greek origin. It will be recalled that some years ago the question of compulsory military service constituted a serious and vexatious problem which was constantly before the Legation’s attention. Under the circumstances the question of compulsory registration, though vexatious also, was of lesser importance. During recent years the Legation’s persistent and forceful representations relative to compulsory military service have borne fruit. As the Department knows, the Greek authorities, while preserving the theory of military obligation on the part of naturalized American citizens of certain categories, has agreed that all American citizens of Greek origin may visit Greece for a period of six months without being molested by the military authorities. This has been a practical solution to the problem and, in contrast to the situation which existed in previous years and which necessitated almost daily representations to the Foreign Office, it may be stated that questions relative to compulsory military service now rarely arise.

[Page 327]

With the foregoing background in mind it seems pertinent to add that whatever theory the competent Greek officials may preserve as regards obligatory registration, the exemption for six months from military service in effect results in a similar exemption as regards the matter of registration. It would appear therefore that the object toward which the Department’s instruction No. 257 of January 16, 1936, was directed has already been achieved, but upon the limited basis of a six-months period of time. The Legation suggests therefore that instead of making representations of a general nature on this matter it might be desirable to seek to come to an arrangement whereby the present period of grace would be extended in conformity with the Department’s purposes. It would appear to the Legation that the most feasible method of approach to this end would be to propose the negotiation of a treaty (or of an agreement of a less formal nature) which would contain the article set forth on page 3 of the Department’s instruction No. 256 of January 14, 1936. That article, it will be recalled, reads as follows:

“A person possessing the nationality of both of the High Contracting Parties who habitually resides in the territory of one of them and who is in fact most closely connected with that Party shall not be held liable for military service or other acts of allegiance in the territory of the other Party.”

The phrase “other acts of allegiance” would, it is believed, satisfactorily eliminate the vexatious question of compulsory registration. The Legation feels in this connection that instead of making direct representations regarding compulsory registration which is a matter that has been at issue for many years, it would be desirable to approach the problem by inquiring if the competent authorities would be prepared to negotiate an agreement containing the article quoted above. For the Department’s information I may add at this point that the article contained in the Department’s instruction No. 210 of December 10 [1], 1928,37a was in fact proposed to the Hellenic Ministry for Foreign Affairs but that it was without favorable result. As indicated in the Legation’s despatch No. 798 [796] of August 28, 1935, it is the Legation’s hope that it may now be possible to come to an understanding with the competent officials in Greece through a less formal and complicated instrument than a naturalization treaty and that a naturalization treaty might follow in due course.

Referring to the last paragraph of the Department’s instruction No. 256 of January 14, 1936, the Legation ventures to express the belief that it would not be desirable at the present time to raise the question even informally of a naturalization treaty similar in scope to the Treaty with Albania. It is believed also that no useful purpose would [Page 328] be served by referring to the “Protocol Relating to Military Obligations in Certain Cases of Double Nationality” signed at the Hague Conference for the Codification of International Law, held in March–April, 1930. It is presumed from the Department’s instruction that the Greek Government has not seen fit to ratify the protocol in question and it would therefore seem desirable to make a completely fresh start in the matter.

There is one further aspect of this matter which it is believed deserves consideration, namely, the desirability of including a time limit similar to that included in paragraph 2 of Article 1 of the Treaty between the United States of America and Norway but adapted to Greek conditions, as hereinafter explained. As understood by the Legation this would be to the Department’s own interests. Without such a time limit the Legation might feel itself called upon to prevent the Greek authorities from imposing Greek registration upon an individual to whom American passport facilities might subsequently be denied by reason of the presumption that he had ceased to be an American citizen. It is realized, of course, that the Department may have specific reasons for withholding the authorization previously given in its instruction No. 210 of December 10 [1], 1928, to propose a time limit proviso. As the Legation sees the particular situation in Greece, however, the inclusion of such a proviso would eliminate a fertile source of misunderstanding and at the same time make the Legation’s contemplated negotiations with the Greek authorities more acceptable to them.

Should a time limit proviso be agreed upon it should, of course, in view of the Act of March 2, 1907,38 cover both the cases of naturalized American citizens born in Greece and those of such citizens born in Turkey of parents of the Greek race, as the former individuals are allowed to remain two years in Greece and the latter five before the presumption of expatriation arises. I may state in this connection that according to the estimate of the Consulate General only about one in twenty cases which arise in connection with compulsory registration relates to individuals of the second category, but that this one case is likely to prove more troublesome than all the others.

Respectfully yours,

Lincoln MacVeagh
  1. Ante, p. 317.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1928, vol. i, p. 499, footnote 53.
  3. 34 Stat. 1228.