Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

The Minister of Finland4 came in and spoke to me very earnestly and confidentially about his Government having received notice from the Soviet Republic expressing a desire to secure certain islands by lease or cession in the Gulf of Finland—about the only islands in the Gulf. He said that his Government had very earnestly opposed such step in its reply to the Soviet Government; that the Soviet Government had suggested exchanging a small strip of Soviet territory on the inland border between the two countries for these islands or their indefinite lease; in each instance the Government of Finland had earnestly opposed any step in that direction.

The Minister then seriously requested and finally urged me to say something in a friendly spirit to the Soviet officials that might discourage them from bringing pressure on his Government for these islands. I expressed my regret to learn of this possible controversy and said that of course my Government and my people were specially friendly towards his Government and his people. I then added that my Government has a traditional policy of not undertaking to interfere in political controversies across the seas; that we only speak about political conditions when they become so acute and dangerous as to constitute a definite threat to the peace of the world. I told him I was very sorry that I was not in a position to discuss the matter with the Soviet Government, certainly at this stage. He seemed very much disappointed and importuned me at some length, but I was particular not to express a sentence or a word to him that might be interpreted [Page 954] as conditional so far as our possible acts might be concerned, and continued to make clear our inability to interfere in a matter of that kind.5

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  1. Hjalmar J. Procopé.
  2. The Minister of Finland had similar interviews on this day with James C. Dunn, Adviser on Political Relations, and Pierrepont Moffat, Chief of the Division of European Affairs. (760d.6114/3, 4) The American Minister in Finland, H. F. Arthur Schoenfeld, in his telegram No. 73, May 3, 1939, reported to the Secretary of State that the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Eljas Erkko, had explained that the démarche of the Minister at Washington “had been designed primarily to apprise you of the Soviet suggestions regarding islands in eastern part of Gulf of Finland and not as a request for action which was considered neither necessary nor desirable at the Foreign Office” (760d.6114/6)