740.00119 European War 1939/285

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

In accordance with the suggestion made in the discussion with the Secretary, Mr. Murray9 and I requested the Turkish Ambassador10 to call.

I said that we availed ourselves of his kindness to ask his personal advice on a wholly confidential basis. We were exploring an idea and sought the benefit of his views.

I said that the President had announced the policy of an active search for peace. Real peace, in his view, involved the creation of a [Page 132] public sentiment and a moral situation in the world in which the people really desired peace, and wished to abide by it; the President felt that this was in fact the desire of most people, but that it found little or no means of expression. With the object of maintaining contact with spiritual and essentially peaceful forces, the President had sent a representative to the Vatican to establish contact with the Catholic world. We were now exploring the idea of sending a like representative to someone in the Mohammedan world; and possibly also to some head of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Mr. Ertegün said that he would be glad to treat the inquiry in a wholly confidential manner. He said that it raised for the Turkish government a point of extreme delicacy. They had endeavored to play down the political functions of the Mohammedan church; as in many revolutions, the pendulum had probably gone too far in the anti-religious direction. They had also entertained the fear that any political importance given to the Mohammedan church might be used by other powers, as, for instance, Italy. In consequence, the suggestion made would involve a radical reversal of the policy of the Turkish government.

Nevertheless, he said, the Turkish government sympathized so thoroughly with the objectives of the President that the present suggestion would undoubtedly receive serious consideration in Ankara. He suggested that inquiry might be discreetly made in Ankara either through him, or through Mr. MacMurray.11

In the event that the move proved possible, he thought that probably the best way of doing it would be to arrange to have the spiritual head of the Mohammedan church, who is under the general supervision of the Turkish Ministry of Education, put into contact with our representative. In such case, when times become propitious, a circular missive might be sent to the various heads of Mohammedan communities. In some cases there would be difficulty: for instance, the British might object to the sending of such missives from Turkey to the Moslem communities in India. All these questions would have to be worked out.

The possible sending of a representative to the heads of the Greek Orthodox church was touched on, but only briefly. The Turkish government plainly would take much the same attitude towards that representation as it did towards a move to establish contact with the Mohammedan church. The Turkish Ambassador felt that nothing [Page 133] could come of any contact with Mohammedans in Persia. They were of a different sect, and the Persian government was in very definite and complete opposition to the clergy.

The Turkish Ambassador said he thoroughly understood the confidential nature of the inquiry, and appreciated our kindness in talking it over with him. He would keep it confidential, making inquiry from his government, if we requested it.

Note:—My conclusion from this is that it would probably be best to suggest to the President that he write a personal letter to President Inönü. This would be in line with the President’s policy. It also would be a delicate way of putting the question to the Turkish government. I accordingly suggest that we send to the President a memorandum along the line of that attached.12

A. A. Berle, Jr.
  1. Wallace Murray, Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs.
  2. Mehmet Münir Ertegün.
  3. John V. A. MacMurray, American Ambassador in Turkey.
  4. Infra.