740.00111A Combat Areas/230

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

Representatives of the British, French and Canadian Governments called at Mr. Berle’s office today to discuss the question of establishing a contraband control base on this side of the Atlantic and the question of moral embargoes of this country. The following persons were present:

  • State Department representatives:
    • Mr. Berle
    • Mr. Dunn
    • Mr. Hickerson
    • Mr. Stewart
  • British representatives:
    • Mr. F. Ashton-Gwatkin
    • Sir Owen Chalkley, Commercial Counselor, British Embassy
    • Mr. N. M. Butler, Counselor, British Embassy
    • Mr. A. K. Helm, First Secretary, British Embassy
    • Mr. R. Reid-Adam, Commercial Secretary, British Embassy
  • Canadian representatives:
    • The Honorable Loring Christie, Minister of Canada
    • Mr. R. Ronald Macdonnell, Third Secretary, Canadian Legation
  • French representative:
    • Mr. Jacques Dumaine, First Secretary, French Embassy

(1) Establishment of a Contraband Control Base in Canada

In opening the meeting Mr. Berle first took up the question of a contraband control base on this side of the Atlantic and asked the subcommittee, which had been considering this question, to report. [Page 39] Mr. Dunn replied that the subcommittee had canvassed the various possibilities but that it did not reach anything definite. It was found that there were at least some objections to any port which might be set up as a contraband control base. Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin asked if this meant that all possibility of finding a base in Canada were ruled out. Mr. Berle answered that he could not say that and that it was not within our province to rule out automatically anything which the British and the Canadians might work out together.

Mr. Dunn then emphasized something which he had pointed out in the subcommittee meeting, namely, that any base which should be established should not be set up as a mails control base.

Mr. Hickerson said that establishing a mails station would, of course, place us in an impossible position.

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin replied that any base established would of course be a contraband control station. Referring to the Kirkwall base, he said that he believed American ships had not called there voluntarily. Similarly, it was his understanding that if a base were established on this side ships would not call voluntarily.

Mr. Hickerson added that they could not enter voluntarily, even at St. John, New Brunswick, with arms, ammunition, and implements of war on board. Furthermore, Scandinavian ships carrying American goods could not enter a British control base voluntarily unless title to the goods had passed.

Mr. Berle said that we wondered just what the British were doing to the Scandinavian shipping people. He referred particularly to the Icelandic ship Goderfoss now awaiting clearance in New York. The ship was refusing to take mail apparently on the basis of an agreement with the British Government under which the Line is forbidden to carry American mails. Mr. Berle said he hardly believed that an agreement between two foreign countries regulating the carrying of American mails would have been entered into without informing or consulting this country.

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin replied that he believed there is such an agreement between Great Britain and Iceland under which Icelandic ships would not carry American mails. Mr. Berle asked whether the Scandinavian Lines in declining to accept American mails were acting under similar agreements with Great Britain. Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin replied that they were not.

Mr. Hickerson asked what earthly interest Great Britain could have in binding the Icelandic Line not to carry American mails. Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin said that speaking frankly this restriction seemed to him to be a rather foolish one.

Mr. Berle said that under such an arrangement as this any two countries could control our mails.

[Page 40]

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin asked if it were not an issue between the United States and Iceland. If these ships carry United States mails then Great Britain feels that they should come into Kirkwall.

Mr. Berle replied that the question wasn’t nearly so simple as that. As a privilege for using our ports foreign ships are expected to carry mails which our Post Office Department tenders to them.

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin stated that he wanted to stay out of this fight and that he would take it up with his government and ask them to keep out of the fight. He added that of course the Icelandic agreement had no relation to the other cases of refusal to carry American mails.

Mr. Berle said that we could not accept this last statement because ships of all countries may claim equal treatment in American ports and under American laws; therefore, if we exempt Icelandic ships from carrying American mails we will have to grant similar exemption to ships of other countries. As a result of agreements of this kind, Mr. Berle added, the British Government is actually increasing the difficulty of the very problem for which we are now trying to find a solution, the censorship of mails, because such agreements would tend to divert mails to American ships.

Mr. Hickerson asked why Scandinavian ships are so anxious to avoid Kirkwall. Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin replied that this was because Mr. Hitler has said he would sink them on sight if they go to Kirkwall.

Mr. Berle asked Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin if there was any reason why he could not cable his government and ask if the agreement with Iceland was not unnecessary. Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin said that he would so cable his government. Mr. Berle repeated that we could not take the position that an agreement between foreign countries regarding American mails does not concern us and he hoped that an appropriate telegram to London would enable this Icelandic vessel to clear and would settle the general problem.

Returning to the question of a contraband control base, Mr. Berle observed that Scandinavian ships apparently do not wish to go to Kirkwall nor do we want our ships to go to Kirkwall. Indeed, we don’t want them to have to go to any belligerent control base. However, he thought that it was not up to a neutral power to make suggestions as to how these difficulties might be met.

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin said that he would be very grateful for any suggestions. He asked if there was nothing to choose between the various Canadian ports and whether they are all equally objectionable. He referred to St. John in particular.

Mr. Dunn replied that the subcommittee had canvassed all possible ports and that he could not think of any port which would not be objectionable from some point of view.

[Page 41]

Mr. Berle said that the problem might be tackled from a different point of view: the Post Office Department would like to have the quickest and cheapest mail service available. This at the moment appears to be by the Scandinavian Lines. He said he would leave the subject there for the further contemplation of the British and French and that they might be able to work something out which we could agree upon here. The matter was of course primarily for their consideration. Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin thanked Mr. Berle for this suggested approach and said they would see whether this thought could be developed.

(2) Moral Embargoes

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin then brought up the subject of moral embargoes and said that he would like very much to have some information on this subject. Mr. Berle handed him some press releases and other materials covering this subject. Mr. Berle also made a brief statement outlining the historical development of the moral embargo in this country. It began in June 1938 at which time we objected to the bombing of civilian populations from the air.43 In July 1938 we addressed letters to airplane manufacturers suggesting that planes, aircraft armaments and aircraft accessories not be sold to countries engaged in bombing of civilian populations. On December 2, 1939, a day or two after the invasion of Finland, a further statement was issued44 adding materials essential to airplane manufacture to the scope of the policy which by the terms of the statement applies to countries which are engaged in the bombing or machine-gunning of civilian populations from the air. These statements were intended to apply to Japan and the Soviet Union. Many companies, however, have interpreted them to include Germany.

There exists also a moral embargo on strategic and critical raw materials. This applies to exports to any country except shipments in normal quantities to normal customers, which means that certain quantities are being exported to countries in the western hemisphere. Mr. Berle said that so far as we were advised there has been no transshipment of these strategic and critical raw materials from countries in this hemisphere to other areas.

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin wanted to know what materials, might not be exported without an export license. Mr. Hickerson answered that tin plate scrap and helium gas, which are covered by special legislation, are the only materials other than arms, ammunition and implements of war for which an export license is required.

[Page 42]

Mr. Berle, continuing his statement, said that in connection with the bombing of open cities we considered it illogical to place a moral embargo on selling airplanes and airplane parts and at the same time to enable countries so engaged to manufacture high test aviation gasoline. We asked companies which were selling technical information to Japan and the Soviet Union to abstain from making that sale.

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin wanted to know what happens to people who don’t obey the moral embargo. Mr. Berle answered that a little persuasion usually convinces a party that he ought to conform to a policy which this government has announced. A moral embargo, he said, is in its own particular way perhaps even more effective than all the legal provisions one could devise.

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin said that copper was something that interested them very much and asked if there was any restriction on its export. Mr. Berle replied that there was none.

Mr. Ashton-Gwatkin said there was another commodity about which he wanted to make special inquiry, namely, industrial diamonds. This, he said, is connected with mails censorship. He believed that the United States Post Office Department prohibits industrial diamonds from going by air mails. He would like to know definitely whether this was so and whether this rule might not be extended to all mails.

Mr. Berle said that we would be glad to furnish any information available concerning existing postal regulations on this subject.

Sir Owen Chalkley said that it was really a question of re-export of industrial diamonds. This would not come under the question of moral embargoes but under strategic materials prohibitions. He thought the Army and Navy Munitions Board would be interested in considering industrial diamonds from the point of view of strategic materials. According to information of his government industrial diamonds come from Brazil and are then forwarded by American mails to Germany.

Mr. Berle said we would of course be glad to have any information from the British on this subject and any explanation of their views. As regards letter mail, the sending of articles of value to belligerent territory without transfer of title is illegal. Any shipment to a belligerent country is illegal unless there is filed a declaration, under oath, of transfer of title.

  1. See statement by the Acting Secretary of State, June 3, 1938, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 595.
  2. Press release issued by the White House, ibid., vol. ii, p. 202.