740.00111A Combat Areas/148

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

The British Ambassador called to see me this morning at his request. The Ambassador referred to the message I had communicated to him from the President some two weeks ago to the effect that were Great Britain to select St. Johns, Newfoundland, as the port at which [Page 12] American flag ships would be inspected for contraband, the Government of the United States would hold the British Government responsible for any damages which might be incurred by these ships or their passengers as a result of such deviation from their normal course. The Ambassador said that he had been informed by his Government of the message which had been conveyed to the President from Mr. Churchill, namely, that no further American flag ships would be taken to Kirkwall within the combat zone for such inspection.

I told the Ambassador that such a message had been received and that the message had suggested that the details as to the solution of this problem might appropriately be discussed between Lord Lothian and this Government.

Lord Lothian inquired whether the President’s message was to be regarded as an indication that this Government would object to the use of the port of St. Johns for such inspection.

I said that the President’s message, I felt, spoke for itself and that no objection to St. Johns as a port of inspection could be raised by this Government on the ground that it was within the combat zone prescribed by the present Neutrality Act.17 On the other hand, I said, this Government naturally would maintain all of its rights under generally accepted international law insofar as the inspection and diversion from their course of American ships bound from the United States to a neutral port by the warships of the British Navy were concerned.

The Ambassador inquired whether I had any objection to a representative of the Embassy discussing the technical aspects of this question with officials of this Department and I said that I had no objection whatever to make to conversations of that character.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. Neutrality Act of 1939; 54 Stat. 4.