740.00112 European War 1939/2157

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

The British Ambassador called at his request and handed me the attached memorandum99 on exports to Russia. He said that he was not requesting an embargo on exports from this country to Russia, but rather a rationing of such exports on some practical basis which this Government itself might work out unilaterally and place in operation. He added that he had no suggestions as to how this might be done, but that he would be glad to hear from my Government with respect to this matter as early as may be practicable. I thanked him for the data he handed to me and proceeded to say that we have been observing each week our trade situation with Russia and the developments with respect thereto; that thus far it was the opinion of those in the Department, [Page 158] who are giving it special attention, that, while the exports in certain lines have considerably increased, there has not been an alarming increase, or such an increase as would give serious concern thus far;2 that, notwithstanding, we shall continue to give attention to the matter. I said that this Government was subjecting to export control an increasing number of commodities, primarily from the standpoint of our own national defense and of conservation; that we have not undertaken to invoke and apply that policy to aid Great Britain in tightening up her blockade, although some of the controls are sometimes referred to as having been imposed for that purpose rather than the purpose of national defense. The Ambassador seemed to understand.

I then proceeded to say that Russia, whether very active or sound asleep, so to speak, is and will continue to be a tremendous factor in the war and likewise in questions affecting peace generally, both in Europe and in Asia; that I need not enter into details as to this; that Russian officials were very sensitive when prodded and that Russia is calculated to go some distance in showing her displeasure—much farther in fact than she would ordinarily go to indicate her pleasure and satisfaction with respect to some favor done her; that since she entered into the agreement with Germany3 leading up to the war and since she occupied the Baltic4 and Polish areas5 and certain others6 she has consistently pursued her policy of seeking to drive hard bargains, especially with Germany and Japan, or in areas where they are immediately interested, with the result that the sum total of her course and attitude during past months has been to obstruct and to cause miscarriage of many elaborate plans of either Hitler or the Japanese, or their joint plans; that I need not enter into details as to all of these activities of the Russians, who, of course, did not have in mind the idea of aiding any of us while thus acting in a way to seriously slow down and disrupt Hitler’s plans with respect to the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal areas especially. I then said that in view of the publication by the British of their plan [Page 159] to ask this Government to impose embargoes against Russia, I doubted whether the British Government is receiving as much information from Moscow as usual, and doubtless not as much cordiality, although the period through which we are passing renders it all-important that Great Britain should be on as good relations as possible with Soviet Russia. I then rehearsed to the Ambassador the course of this Government since last summer in carrying on frequent conferences with the Soviet Ambassador with a view to the removal of many small grievances,7 both pro and con, so that in any event there would be less occasion for Soviet officials to feel unkindly toward this Government, especially in the event of some pivotal development where the very slightest influence might tip the scales at Moscow against us in a most damaging and far-reaching way, and that I felt that the British were in the same position in presenting publicly such proposals as calling on this Government to impose an embargo against Soviet Russia. The Ambassador entirely agreed. I said that we would, as we are doing, continue to give attention to the matter of exports to Russia and would be glad to keep in touch with the Ambassador.

C[ordell] H[ull]
  1. Not printed.
  2. See the memorandum of January 21, by Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, and telegram No. 92, January 25, to the Ambassador in the Soviet Union, pp. 692 and 696, respectively.
  3. Treaty of nonaggression signed at Moscow on August 23, 1939; for text, with secret additional protocol, see Department of State, Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939–1941 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1948), p. 76; or Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–1945, Series D, vol. vii, p. 245.
  4. For correspondence concerning the forcible occupation of the Baltic States and their incorporation into the Soviet Union, see Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. i, pp. 357 ff.
  5. For correspondence regarding the intervention of the Soviet Union in Poland on September 17, 1939, see ibid., 1939, vol. i, pp. 428 ff.
  6. For correspondence on the activities of the Soviet Union in the Balkans and the seizure of Bessarabia, see ibid., 1940, vol. i, pp. 444 ff.
  7. For correspondence concerning discussions of difficulties affecting relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, see pp. 667 ff.