The Ambassador in Turkey ( MacMurray ) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 15.]
Sir: I have the honor to enclose herewith, in reference to the Turkish request for revision of the Straits Convention of 1923 (as reported in my despatch No. 20 of April 14), a memorandum of a conversation on that subject which I had yesterday with Dr. Tevfik Rüstü Aras, Minister for Foreign Affairs. I also enclose copies14 of memoranda of recent conversations with the Japanese Ambassador,15 the Counselor [Page 513] of the German Embassy,16 and the British Ambassador,17 touching on various aspects of the same question.
The Government of the United States has, as I understand the matter, no treaty right, direct or indirect, with respect to the Straits Convention; nor has it any concern with the military and political aspects of that Convention; its sole practical interest in the matter is the maintenance (or perhaps the amelioration) of the régime of freedom of commercial navigation through the Straits. There is every reason to believe that it is the intention of the Turkish Government to maintain that régime satisfactorily and without discrimination for the benefit of maritime traffic, even in the event of the termination of Turkey’s present conventional obligations in that regard. And in view particularly of the disposition of the Turkish Government, because of the “favorable balance of trade” with the United States, to give American commerce the most favorable treatment, I am confident that we need feel no anxiety about the continued enjoyment by our shipping of the benefits of the régime.
There are, indeed, certain minor points in which improvements might be suggested. On the basis of its contacts with the American Export Line (the sole American shipping company affected) the Consulate-General informs me that this line, in common with the British and other shipping interests concerned, considers that the quarantine charge of four piastres (say $0,032) per net registered ton on vessels navigating these waters in either direction (and even when not stopping in transit), and the same charge for the maintenance of life-saving service, levied upon each voyage into the Black Sea, are unduly high and, in the case of vessels merely passing through the Straits, unwarranted. Although it does not appear that, even under the existing Convention, there is any basis for demanding as of right that these charges be abated, there may possibly develop, in connection with the proposed reconsideration of the Convention, some favorable opportunity to suggest to the Turkish Government the reduction of these charges. The Embassy would of course take advantage of any such occasion, either acting alone or cooperating with the representatives of other maritime nations.
Inasmuch as our interest in the question of the Straits is confined to matters in which we can in any case expect the most favorable treatment of our shipping, I venture to suggest that no useful purpose would be served by our being represented by observers in any conference which may be held for the reconsideration of the Convention. On the contrary, in view of the fact that the Turks are even yet manifestly somewhat sensitive about the fact that “as a matter of historical [Page 514] survival” (to quote Dr. Aras) the régime of commercial navigation in these Turkish waters has been treated as a question for regulation by international agreement rather than by domestic action, I am sure they would feel it to be the more friendly and gracious on our part, and would predispose them to entertain the more sympathetically any ameliorative suggestions which we might find occasion to offer, if we were to refrain from any assertion of interest in the Convention such as would be implied in our sending observers to the prospective conference on the subject. I have accordingly to request that, if the Department shares this view, I may be authorized to let the Turkish authorities know, in whatever manner may seem most appropriate, that our Government, while fully appreciative of the importance of the question of the Straits and interested in keeping informed as to the progress of the negotiations, particularly as they affect the commercial navigation of the Straits, has no intention of participating in that conference.