Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

The Counselor of the Argentine Embassy15 came in to see me today, at his request. He stated that his government had received a notice from the British government that transfer of German ships blockaded [Page 72] in Argentine harbors to the Argentine flag would not be recognized by the government of Great Britain. He indicated that the principal reason given was the fear lest the German government thereby be placed in funds in the Argentine. He asked what attitude we were taking.

I immediately showed him the memorandum of conversation between Mr. Mallet, Mr. Dunn and myself, dated October 2, 1939, relating to the British suggestion that we use our influence to restrain such transfers. I directed his attention particularly to the fact that I had pointed out to Mr. Mallet that the matter was primarily a matter between the British government and the governments of the countries involved; that if we had any right to make representations it could only arise as a result of a cooperative arrangement between the American governments. I added, however, that the matter had been the subject of some discussion at Panama; and that we might contemplate at least the possibility that a solidary and uniform attitude in these matters might be reached by all of us. I added that I understood the representations made by the British to the Argentine government were in line with those which had been made in Mexico; and that the French government had associated itself with these proposals.

I also invited attention to the suggestion which we were exploring, namely, that the British might possibly see their way clear to recognizing such transfers, provided the price of these vessels was held in escrow until the end of the war.

Dr. Bunge expressed appreciation. He said that he was informed from Buenos Aires that a law had been passed here supposedly under date of August, 1914, under and by which we arranged for the taking over of ships blockaded here and their transfer to our own flag. I said that I had no knowledge of such a law and that I thought that there might have been confusion with a part of our war legislation which did permit us to take over ships both building and actually in port; but that I would look the matter up and inform him of the state of our legislation in that regard.

He likewise adverted to the article in the American Journal of International Law, which includes a projected statement of neutral rights.16 In this is found a statement that any transfer from a belligerent flag to a neutral flag in time of war is presumed to be in bad faith unless the government to whose flag the ship is transferred can prove the contrary. This, he thought, was contrary to the settled rule of international law.

I confined myself to commenting that this rule had been widely insisted on by the British during the previous war and since they were actually a great naval power, I presumed that they would continue to insist on it.

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Dr. Bunge concluded by asking whether I could make up a little bibliography of the American text writing and opinion relating to the transfer of belligerent ships to neutral flags, which he might send to his government. I told him I would be very happy to ask the Legal Adviser’s office if they would make up such a list, which I should be glad to send him.17 I gathered that he wished merely a list of the outstanding articles, books or statements, if any, which had appeared on the point.

A. A. Berle, Jr.
  1. Ricardo Bunge.
  2. See Editorial Comment, American Journal of International Law, vol. ix, pp. 167, 195.
  3. This list was handed to the Counselor of the Argentine Embassy by Assistant Secretary Berle on October 12 (800.852/207a).