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Memorandum of Conversation, by the Adviser on International Economic Affairs (Feis)

Baron de Gruben of the Belgian Embassy called this morning to review certain phases of the discussions which have been taking place between the two Governments for a possible exchange of cotton, wheat, tin and rubber. He gradually brought the conversation to the problem of transport in the event of an outbreak of war in Europe.

He stated that he now recognized in the light of the Secretary’s proposals for the establishment of “combat areas” in which American ships would not travel, our reluctance to enter into any of the types [Page 446] of agreements Prince de Ligne had discussed with us during his visit here.

He stated that of course this policy established more clearly than ever the importance to the small neutrals such as Belgium to endeavor to make arrangements for supplying themselves with vital necessities in wartime. He said he was sure we recognized that our policy in this matter would be of vital importance to Belgium. He expressed interest in the plan whereby some organization, monetary in character, could be created that would have international standing and be permitted by the belligerents to carry on the necessary commerce.

He also discussed the possibilities, if war should come, of the United States reaching an agreement with the belligerents whereunder ordinary trade with neutrals—properly safeguarded—could be continued. We reviewed in general the arrangements worked out during the last war.

I assured him that both because of the natural state of friendly relationship existing between ourselves and other neutral countries, and because of the very substantial character of the trade interests involved, this country would unquestionably do everything that it could compatibly with safety and non-involvement to continue ordinary neutral trade.