740.00112 European War 1939/1405

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Robert B. Stewart of the Division of European Affairs

Representatives of the British and French Governments called at the Department today to discuss the question of American interest in exports from Germany. The following persons were present:

  • State Department representatives:
    • Mr. Berle
    • Mr. Dunn38
    • Mr. Hackworth
    • Mr. Yingling39
    • Mr. Hickerson
    • Mr. Stewart
  • British representatives:
    • Mr. F. Ashton-Gwatkin40
    • Mr. A. K. Helm, First Secretary, British Embassy
    • Mr. E. Reid-Adam, Commercial Secretary, British Embassy
  • French representatives:
    • Professor Charles Rist41
    • Mr. Maurice Garreau-Dombasle, Commercial Counselor, French Embassy
    • Mr. Jacques Dumaine, First Secretary, French Embassy

Mr. Dunn opened the meeting with the statement that Mr. Berle had been called to the White House and would join the meeting later. He asked Mr. Hackworth, whose office has been handling this subject in the first instance, to outline to the group our interest in securing exports from Germany and our experience in dealing with the British authorities.

Mr. Hackworth discussed in some detail instances in which goods are held in neutral ports awaiting approval of applications filed with the British Ministry of Economic Warfare. He pointed out that of some forty cases which have already been passed upon applications have been approved in only about six and in only one of these cases was the quantity or value of the goods of any consequence. Mr. Hackworth said that these goods have already been paid for and Germany has already received foreign exchange for them. He believed, therefore, that the release of such goods to the United States could not possibly aid Germany nor would any injury accrue to Great Britain.

Mr. Hickerson said that this government had been very much gratified with the assurances which it had received from the British Government [Page 32] last November that every effort would be made to minimize inconvenience to neutral shippers and merchants. We had also been pleased with the more explicit assurances which the British Government gave in its note of February 21, 1940. As a matter of fact, however, these good assurances simply have not been implemented in actual practice. The British Government has not yet replied to our note of January 17 [19], 1940.42 Furthermore, it has declined to give reasons for its refusal to grant applications. Hence we are completely in the dark as to the British Government’s attitude toward certain broad types of cases which were mentioned in the note of January 17. Mr. Hickerson thought it would be helpful to us, therefore, if Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin could tell us very candidly what the British authorities were aiming at and on what basis they were operating.

After certain general introductory remarks Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin read a summary of the British draft reply to the January 17th note. He said that this was merely a draft; that it had not yet been dressed up in diplomatic language, but that he would be glad to leave a copy with us for our information.

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin read this summary again after Mr. Berle had joined the group and Mr. Berle commented on various arguments put forward, emphasizing particularly that we could not of course admit that a British Order in Council could be binding upon American nationals.

Mr. Hackworth said that he hoped very much we could reach some conclusion and could agree upon a public announcement with regard to goods awaiting shipment in neutral ports. It was agreed that Mr. Helm, Mr. Hickerson, Mr. Hackworth and Mr. Yingling would draft a statement on the subject which might be given to the press.

Mr. Berle said that aside from the goods within the above category there were many types of special cases which had to be dealt with and he wondered whether or not the British Government could not give assurances regarding these special types of goods. He asked Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin if he did not consider this a practicable approach to the problem. Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin said that the British authorities, as already pointed out in their note to us, preferred to consider each case on its own merits subject to the general assurances which had been given.

Mr. Hickerson at this point repeated his earlier statement that we had no complaint whatsoever with regard to the assurances which the British Government had given but that there is a wide discrepancy between assurances and performance. He called attention particularly to the Sonotone Corporation’s application for permission to import certain special types of carbon from Germany which this [Page 33] company had always used and which it considers necessary for the manufacture of hearing devices. He said that this was typical of cases involving obvious hardship to this country and with which he believed the British Government should readily admit their obligation to refrain from interfering.

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin suggested that it would appear advisable to set up some machinery to deal with individual cases. He thought such machinery should be established in London so that the American Embassy could deal directly with the Ministry of Economic Warfare.

Mr. Berle added that he too had been thinking along the lines of establishing some machinery but that he felt that whatever machinery might be set up should be established in Washington rather than in London. First of all irritated American citizens do not like the thought of going to London to request permission from the British authorities to do something which they feel they have a perfect right to do. Secondly, the problem could be more effectively handled here because the interested parties and the evidence relating to their cases are here and could be presented directly. Mr. Berle asked Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin to look into this possibility further before our next meeting on the subject.

  1. James O. Dunn, Adviser on Political Relations.
  2. Raymund T. Yingling, Assistant to the Legal Adviser.
  3. Adviser on policy to the British Ministry of Economic Warfare.
  4. Economic Adviser to the French Ministry of Blockade.
  5. See telegram No. 13, January 20, to the Ambassador in Italy, p. 7.