811.0141 Phoenix Group/30¾

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Moffat)

Participants: The British Ambassador
Mr. Hugh Wilson36
Mr. Pierrepont Moffat

Mr. Wilson said that he had asked Sir Ronald to call when he was in the Department on other business in order that he might speak to him about the Pacific Islands to which the British and ourselves have conflicting claims. Sir Ronald said that he had written a letter to the Foreign Office, following his talk with Judge Moore of November 3, which he had thought would “move mountains”. Unfortunately he had received nothing more than an acknowledgment and an intimation that it would probably be some time more before the British were prepared to reply. In the circumstances he would be only too glad to pass on any further observations we might wish to make.

Mr. Wilson said that we were perturbed at the slow tactics being pursued by the British Government; that we felt it was very much to the interest of both Governments to reach an amicable adjustment and clear up outstanding claims; that there was plenty of room for both our countries to be adequately supplied with islands; and that the British Government might well find comfort in seeing us both established in the Pacific area.

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Sir Ronald said that he surmised the delay was due to the fact that it had been necessary to consult New Zealand and Australia and that, as we well knew, New Zealand “was sore as a pup” over the Pan American aircraft contract.37 He said that nothing would be done without the full and free consent of the New Zealand Government.

Mr. Moffat pointed out that the islands to which there were conflicting claims were not claimed by the New Zealand Government, either directly or under mandate, but were claimed by “His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom”. Sir Ronald remarked that irrespective of that technicality the islands in question were of interest in New Zealand and that the British Government would not give up one iota of its claims unless New Zealand consented thereto. Mr. Moffat suggested that in that case New Zealand had a complete veto power over any negotiations between the British and American Governments. Sir Ronald replied in the affirmative.

Mr. Wilson suggested that he thought seven or eight weeks was a long time to hold up an answer to our inquiry. Sir Ronald agreed to write again, but when pushed to telegraph evinced some reluctance. It was agreed that the matter would for the present be given no publicity, and that in so far as possible both Governments would endeavor to work out the questions not through legalistic arguments but through common sense negotiation. Sir Ronald said he quite agreed, and felt that we must both prevent what was a mere pimple from developing into a boil.

Pierrepont Moffat
  1. Assistant Secretary of State.
  2. The articles of agreement between New Zealand and the Pan American Airways, Inc., were signed November 2, 1935, and extended by New Zealand March 11, 1937 (811.79690 Pan American Airways/88).