The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Bingham) to the Secretary of State

No. 2129

Sir: I have the honor to report that in an informal conversation to-day, the Foreign Office confirmed that it had sent a sympathetic reply to the Turkish proposal for Treaty revision with a view to refortifying the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, and made the following observations in this general relation.

While the Foreign Office would have preferred that Turkey had addressed its communication to the Secretary General of the League and had the Assembly take the steps provided for in Article 19 of the Covenant, instead of addressing the signatories of the Lausanne Treaty direct and merely informing the League, it was realized that the former procedure would have afforded the representatives of the anti-revisionist countries in the Assembly an excellent opportunity to block Turkey’s aspirations. Nevertheless the Foreign Office welcomed the straightforward nature of Turkey’s proposal, which they considered quite proper. The Foreign Office thought that the Turkish Government had shown good judgment in its choice of the moment to request a revision of the Régime of the Straits and that Turkey was in the present instance probably actuated more by fear of Italian expansion in the Mediterranean than for any other reason.

The Foreign Office said that, while they had no doubt the Italian Government would desire to oppose the refortification of the Straits, they would be interested to see what sort of a case Italy, a revisionist country and an outstanding treaty-breaker, could make against Turkey. Referring briefly to the other interested Powers, the Foreign Office said there would not be much opposition, except, perhaps, in the case of the French, “who object to everything.” Greece also feared Italy and wished to fortify her own islands; Rumania, as a member of the Balkan Entente, seemed favorably disposed; Bulgaria was agreeable for revisionist and other reasons; and Soviet Russia, a signatory who had not ratified the Treaty, was an ally of Turkey and for this and other obvious reasons, had assumed a very favorable attitude.

As regards the problem from a purely military standpoint, the Foreign Office felt that Turkey could block the Straits in a few hours even under the existing Régime. By the same token, owing to the great advances in the air, the blocking of the Straits alone no longer afforded adequate protection to Constantinople. The question of permitting Turkey to refortify the Straits was therefore becoming largely academic.

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This question of altering the Régime of the Straits was discussed with the same official of the Foreign Office a little less than two years ago and reported in the Embassy’s despatch No. 824, of July 13, 1934.13 The Department will recall that, at that time, the Foreign Office was glad the Turks had agreed to drop the question and felt that the less said about it the better. In to-day’s conversation reported above, the same official seemed most heartily to welcome the present proposal of the Turkish Government. The Embassy could not help being struck by this change of attitude even though it is easy enough to understand in view of the highly important changes which have occurred since the first conversation took place: especially Germany’s re-occupation of the Rhineland, Italy’s successes in Ethiopia and the severe loss which British prestige has suffered, particularly in the Mediterranean area.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Ray Atherton

Counselor of Embassy