Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)
The British Ambassador14 called to see me this morning at my request.
I told the Ambassador that I had learned confidentially that the British Government, through the British Ambassador in Rio de Janeiro, had addressed an official communication to the Brazilian Government15 with regard to the Declaration of Panama indicating [Page 685] the intention of the Government of Great Britain to respect the zone, providing the other belligerents had agreed to respect it and further providing that certain guarantees and safeguards to the Allied interests could be agreed upon. I asked the Ambassador if my understanding was correct that in the course of the previous conversation which he and I had had upon this subject, he had not intended to make any official statement to this effect, but had intended merely to inform me unofficially of the views of his Government which were in essence similar to those above referred to. The Ambassador said that my understanding was entirely accurate and that he had not as yet been officially instructed to make any official statement to this Government. He then inquired whether the proper procedure would not be for the British Government to make its official views with regard to the Declaration of Panama known to the President of Panama who had heretofore acted as the intermediary in this matter between the American Republics and the belligerent governments. I said to the Ambassador that that was precisely my own understanding.
The Ambassador then said that he believed that his Government was now worried lest the German Government could introduce into the waters comprised within the zone laid down by the Declaration of Panama a considerable number of German merchant vessels which had taken refuge in Murmansk and which could enter the zone with comparative impunity at this time of year owing to the thick fogs which lay between the northern coasts of Scandinavia and Greenland and eastern Canada, and then declare that Germany would respect the zone provided Allied warships did not attack or otherwise interfere with these German vessels within the zone. The British Government feared, the Ambassador said, that if the Germans resorted to this procedure, they would place the British and French navies in the position of violating the zone and of undertaking aggressive acts because, he declared, the Allied Navies could not permit any new concentration of German shipping within the zone since such German shipping must necessarily be a continued and grave menace to Allied merchant shipping traveling between the American continent and Allied ports. I asked the Ambassador if he had any knowledge as yet of any such move having materialized. He replied that he did not. I stated that it clearly could not be thought that the American Republics would agree to have the zone utilized by any belligerent as a base for attack against the other belligerents and that if Germany was contemplating the move to which the Ambassador had referred, such a move would obviously be clearly an attempt to utilize the zone laid down by the Declaration of Panama as a sanctuary and as a basis for attack against Allied merchant shipping. I reminded the Ambassador [Page 686] that a week from today the Permanent Neutrality Committee16 of the American Republics would commence its sessions in Rio de Janeiro and that I believed such problems as that which he had just mentioned would come up for immediate review and for subsequent formal recommendations as to methods of procedure for the Governments of all of the American Republics. I hoped, I said, that the clarification which would result from the labors of the Permanent Neutrality Committee would expedite the decision on the part of all of the belligerents to respect the terms of the Declaration of Panama.