The Ambassador in Brazil (Gaffery) to the Secretary of State

No. 2407

Sir: I have the honor to enclose herewith the text of the British note18 regarding the Declaration of Panama which was handed to the Brazilian Government on January 3, 1940, and described in my telegram No. 10 of January 5, 4 p.m.19 Although along the same general lines as the British reply to the President of Panama,20 of which the text as received here telegraphically by the Associated Press today is also enclosed,18 this earlier note received here presents certain interesting differences from the latter.

The note to the President of Panama omits the threat contained in the note handed to the Brazilian Government that “from a political point of view a most serious situation would arise if the American republics began to take sanctions against British ships” for exercising established belligerent rights, “and such action on the part of those republics would inevitably destroy all chance of His Majesty’s Government being able to accept the zone as they are anxious to do if they can.” While this threat is of course implicit in the repeated insistence in the note to the President of Panama that the Panama proposal “involving abandonment by belligerents of legitimate belligerent rights is not one which on any basis of international law can be imposed upon them by unilateral action, and that its adoption requires their special assent”, it is not made explicit there as it was in the note handed to the Brazilian Government.

Otherwise the note to the President of Panama makes more demands and fewer concessions than the note handed to the Brazilian Government. It omits the admission in the latter that fulfilment of the plan for a neutral zone “would lighten the heavy burden now being borne by the British Navy.” In addition to elaborating new fears of “providing German warships and supply ships with a vast sanctuary from which they could emerge to attack allied and neutral shipping”, the note delivered at Panama lays down the following conditions for acceptance that were not contained at all in the note received here.

German warships and supply ships should not be enabled to pass from one ocean to another through the zone. This is not mentioned as a condition in the note received here.

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German merchant ships should not be permitted to engage in inter-American trade. The note received here stipulated merely that German merchantmen already harboring in American ports be held there for the duration of the war.

Finally, the keynote of the message delivered here was that Great Britain “would accept the proposal if …”; that of the note to Panama seems to be that “His Majesty’s Government … will reserve their full belligerent rights to fight” within the zone, unless …21

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
William C. Burdett

Counselor of Embassy
  1. Not printed.
  2. Printed in vol. v , in section under General entitled “The Inter-American Neutrality Committee.”
  3. See note from the Panamanian Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Secretary of State, D. D. No. 262, January 26, p. 689.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Omissions indicated in the original despatch.