740.00111 A.R./449: Telegram

The Under Secretary of State ( Welles ) to the Secretary of State

44. Your 45, October 4, 6 p.m. Paragraph H of article 3 of the general declaration of neutrality of the American Republics provides that the Governments of the American Republics “may concentrate and place a guard on board belligerent merchant vessels which have sought asylum in their waters, and may interfere with vessels14 which have made false declarations as to their destinations, as well as those which have taken an unjustified or excessive time in their voyage or have adopted the distinctive signs of warships”.

This provision which was initiated by the Argentine representatives was intended to take care primarily of those republics which have extensive coast lines and which either now have or may have in their several ports German merchant vessels which have taken refuge and where the local police or naval authorities may not be sufficiently strong or numerous to cope with particular situations which may arise. The basic idea was to concentrate all such merchant vessels in a selected port where presumably the naval or police authorities would be sufficiently ample to take care of any emergency situation.

In my judgment the carrying out of such a provision in the cases mentioned would make it easier for the American Governments to maintain strict vigilance and supervision and to prevent the sudden egress of German merchant vessels for offensive purposes.

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As indicated in an earlier telegram I think it is probable that certain of the American Governments will take steps in this direction in the near future as a measure of self protection. Immediately after my return I will discuss with the President, the Department and the Navy Department the impressions I have obtained as to the desire and intentions of several of the American Governments with regard to the problem with which they are all confronted in connection with a relatively large number of German vessels which have taken refuge in their ports. I would recommend as a matter of expedience as well as of ultimate advantage that it be suggested to the British and French Governments that they should not undertake to crystallize their positions with regard to this problem until our own Government in particular has been afforded ample opportunity of discussing the whole situation with them and of giving full consideration to every factor in the problem. There are many possible ways in which the question could be handled and developed some of which would clearly have advantages in many directions but further discussion and interchange would be necessary before they could be defined.

It would be very difficult to set forth clearly by telegram the multitude of impressions which we have all of us obtained from our conversations with the representatives of the other American Republics in regard to this question. I am optimistic enough to believe that it can be worked out satisfactorily but I recognize that many exceedingly powerful interests are involved and considerable time and study would have to be given to it.

With reference to the penultimate paragraph of the Department’s telegram the statement in my radio address of October 3 was merely a reference to a provision in the general declaration of neutrality which is of course applicable only in the light of certain clearly specified contingencies. There was no indication in my speech that such transfer of the flag is immediately likely although I am advised that the Mexican Government has transfer under very urgent consideration as a means of offsetting debts held by them in the form of frozen marks.

  1. “… and may intern those …”, Report of the Delegate of the United States of America to the Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the American Republics Held at Panamá September 23–October 3, 1939, p. 56.