The Ambassador in Turkey (MacMurray) to the Secretary of State

No. 90

Sir: Referring to previous correspondence regarding the Straits Convention of Lausanne and its recent modification by the Convention signed at Montreux on July 20th,28 I have the honor to enclose herewith a memorandum of a conversation which I had on July 25th with Dr. (Tevfik Ruştu) Aras, Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs.

What seems to me to appear most significantly from this conversation is that, despite the impatience and irritation against Great Britain which the Turkish controlled press was permitted to propagate during the Conference at Montreux, the present intention of this Government is to manifest an attitude of complete satisfaction, and indeed of solidarity, with that of Great Britain. It is not yet fully apparent whether this is due to the favorable results finally attained at Montreux, or to what extent it may be induced by a feeling of common cause with Great Britain with relation to the apprehended pretensions of Italy in the Eastern Mediterranean.

With respect to certain phases of the latter question, I am reporting by separate despatch certain comments of Dr. Aras, made in the course [Page 527] of the same conversation, concerning the status of the understanding between Turkey and Great Britain as to mutual support in contingencies arising out of Article XVI of the League Covenant.

Respectfully yours,

J. V. A. MacMurray

Memorandum by the American Ambassador (MacMurray) of a Conversation With the Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs (Aras), July 25, 1936

Having asked for an appointment in order to present my felicitations to Dr. Aras, who had returned from Montreux on the 24th, I was one of a number of Chiefs of Mission whose visits he received on the afternoon of the 25th, at the Pera Palace Hotel. He was in a very triumphant mood, and scarcely allowed me to speak my word of congratulations before bursting forth into jubilations that Turkey had got from the Conference every substantial thing that she had wanted—which satisfactory result had been achieved in spite of very serious difficulties.

Quite in contrast with the attitude of the controlled Turkish press, which during most of the Conference had been protesting against the obstructiveness of the British, he emphasized that this happy outcome was in large degree due to the constant friendly support of the British Delegation. He was so insistent on this point as even to convey the impression that there might well have been a rift which he was now zealously trying to repair.

Without specifically blaming either France or Russia, he enlarged upon the difficult situation created for Turkey by their insistence upon keeping the Straits open for the uses of the Franco-Soviet combination while closing them to the naval forces of other Powers. Turkey, he said, could never have accepted such a situation, in which she would have been compelled to compromise her neutrality as guardian of the Straits. Happily, a way out of the impasse had been found by the formula that Turkey should allow the passage of naval forces acting either under mandate of the League or under the terms of a mutual assistance treaty to which Turkey herself might be a party. The latter alternative was altogether out of the question, as Turkey has no present or imaginable intention to become a party to such a treaty; so the proviso was based upon a condition contrary to fact and therefore meaningless save as it was acceptable to the French and Soviet Governments because enabling them to make it appear to their home constituencies that the Conference had given them some additional element of security.

Dr. Aras further spoke rather bitterly of the Italian abstention from the Conference, saying that Italy not only had responded in [Page 528] terms favorable in principle to considering the revision of the Lausanne Convention but had also accepted the invitation to participate in the Conference on a given date at Montreux, but had later reconsidered that acceptance. He protested he was broad-minded enough to consider that there might be sufficient reasons for Italy’s abstention to explain it as not actually unfriendly to Turkey, but he could not bring himself to regard it as a friendly thing to do.

At various points in the course of his rather discursive comments, Dr. Aras reiterated that the new Convention fully and impartially preserves the free commercial navigation of the Straits, and indeed further facilitates it by a slight alleviation of the existing charges for certain services to navigation.

  1. For text of convention, see British Cmd. 5249, Turkey No. 1 (1936); or League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clxxiii, p. 213.