740.0011 European War 1939/8558: Telegram

The Ambassador in Turkey ( MacMurray ) to the Secretary of State

37. In response to my inquiries the Secretary General of the Foreign Office39 yesterday gave me his views as to the significance of and bearing of the joint declaration with Bulgaria40 in the elaboration of which he had had a principal part. He recalled that this country had long been desirous of a better understanding with Bulgaria. He then [Page 288] told me that last November, Sobolev, Secretary General of the Soviet Foreign Office, had visited Sofia on a mysterious errand which the Turkish Government learned was a proposal to enter into a pact of mutual assistance directed professedly against Turkey—a proposal which there was even some reason to believe had been gilded with an offer to assure to Bulgaria a portion of Turkish Thrace. The Turks had taxed Molotoff with making this proposition in violation of the Russo-Turkish agreement of 1929 and he had protested that the matter had gone no further than mere soundings of the Bulgarian reaction to the possibility of danger not from Turkey herself, but from some combination (scilicet, with the British) in that direction. Although the Bulgarians had rejected these Soviet overtures this incident had given the Turkish Government occasion for a new impetus in the effort to establish a greater confidence in the relations with Bulgaria—an effort strongly encouraged by the British who hoped it might develop as basis for mutual support among the Balkan States not already overrun by Germany. The Turkish Government had therefore initiated and carried on in constant consultation with the British, negotiations for some sort of an understanding: It had proposed at first to give this the form of a solemn reaffirmation of the intention of each country to maintain its independence and neutrality along the lines of the joint declaration of January 13, 1940 (my despatch No. 1346, January 30 [1940]);43 but the Bulgarians had refused this as being under present circumstances too obviously and provocatively directed against Germany. The Turks had finally proposed that a new declaration might be built upon the basis of the existing treaty of amity of 1925 (see High Commissioner’s despatch No. 1919, May 29, 192643) amplified by a statement that the policy of both Governments was to abstain from any aggression and qualified by a reservation as to the existing commitments of each of the parties. They had presented this formula as a summing up of their position but with really no expectation that it would prove acceptable in view of the course of the negotiations; and they had been astonished accordingly when on the 15th of this month the Bulgarians proposed signing promptly a declaration on that.

2. Numan Bey was frank to admit that the declaration fell short of what could have been desired since it had been necessary to work with a Government which is not sure of the support of its own people and which is distracted by German pressures and by Russian intrigues. But he maintained it was at least moderately helpful to the situation and expressed disappointment and even resentment that in both Great Britain and the United States there seemed to be a tendency to adopt the interpretation promulgated by German propaganda that the purpose and effect of the declaration is to give assurance that Turkey [Page 289] has disinterested herself in whatever may happen elsewhere in the Balkans and thus given the Germans a green light to go through Bulgaria against Greece. He maintained that the reference to both parties abstaining from aggression meant, and was fully and explicitly understood by the negotiators on both sides to mean, aggression in any quarter and specifically aggression against Greece; and that similarly it was understood that the word aggression covered assistance to an aggressor and specifically a consent to Germany’s using Bulgarian territory as a base of invasion. He therefore considered that the declaration obligates Bulgaria not to attack or permit its territory to be used for the purpose of an attack on Greece (although he conceded that Bulgaria may well find it politically and militarily impossible to make any effective resistance or obstruction to German action).

He furthermore pointed out that the reservation as to existing obligations is in effect unilateral since Bulgaria has no such engagements whereas Turkey has thereby maintained her freedom of action with regard to her commitments to Great Britain, the Balkan Entente and Greece: the reservation may therefore be construed as a warning by Turkey that she is prepared to live up to those obligations in case Bulgaria should so act as to bring them into question. As to obligations under the Balkan Entente Numan gave a statement perhaps more professional than that of the Prime Minister44 as reported in my No. 34 of February 18, 5 [4] p.m.:45 he said that although of no practical present utility since Rumania’s defection it is nevertheless still juridically in force and regarded by Turkey as binding and susceptible of being appealed to by any of the parties who may deem such an appeal useful in their own interest.

3. He furthermore said that his Government had expressly informed both the Bulgarian Minister46 and the German Ambassador47 that the establishment of German armed forces in Bulgaria would be a grave matter which Turkey could not regard with indifference.

4. Despite the satisfaction manifested in official circles and its reflection in the inspired press, the indications are that Turkish opinion generally is inclined to regard the declaration as, at any rate, a means of temporizing in an acute situation and is not disposed to be critical of the Government for postponing an evil which is perhaps inevitable. Local British opinion deplores the fact that an agreement not bad in itself has in the end taken a form that lends itself so readily to misrepresentation. The local Axis representatives are jubilant.

Repeated to Sofia.

MacMurray
  1. Numan Rifaat Menemencioglu.
  2. A nonaggression agreement signed February 17, 1941. It was a reaffirmation of the substance of an earlier treaty signed October 18, 1925, for text of which see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. liv, p. 125.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Refik Saydam.
  6. Vol. iii , section under Turkey entitled “Interest of the United States in continuance of Anglo-Turkish cooperation …”
  7. Sava Kiroff.
  8. Franz von Papen.