Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Long)
Sir Arthur Salter20 came in this morning as suggested by Mr. Welles.21 I presented to him the whole situation and suggested that the Belgian Government might dismiss their appeal. After a very long discussion in which all sides of the case were gone into rather thoroughly, he said that he had authority over the operation of the [Page 18]vessels, but had no authority to make commitments of a political nature; that the appeal could only be taken up with the Ambassador after consultation with their lawyers. He doubted if the Belgian Government should be asked to relinquish any right it might have. The right involved the power of one government to exercise authority over the flag vessels of another government even though the citizens of the first government were the beneficial owners of the vessels to be requisitioned. He thought that was fundamental. I assured him that the American Government had a right to those vessels; that they were wholly owned by American citizens. He insisted that the British law was different and he thought international law would substantiate the decision of the British law.
I tried time and again to get away from the legal technicalities involved and told him that I thought it was a matter of fairly high policy and should be approached as a matter of cooperation between the American Government and the British Government. He agreed entirely to keeping the matter on a high plane, but continued to revert to the legal technicalities.
He said that he would agree to anything which the Maritime Commission might ask him to do, and that if the decision was for them to put one vessel in the shuttle service and keep three vessels on the outside they would accept that decision, and if so notified by the Maritime Commission he would immediately advise Admiral Land22 that he agreed.
I read to him the document and explained that the steps taken in Panama to terminate Panamanian registry should be discontinued, and said that there had been certain activities in Panama which indicated to us that the Panamanian Government as a result of these activities had decided to withdraw the use of the Panamanian flag from these vessels and that if this happened it would complicate the procedure under appeal because the same conditions would not exist.
He finally left rather hurriedly taking note of the fact that the dismissal of the appeal was not a condition to be proposed to him and reiterated his statement that if Admiral Land should write to him specifying the matters which we had generally and specifically discussed, that he would immediately advise Admiral Land of his acceptance. He said he did not know how he would reach the Belgian Government or approach them on Panamanian registry, but thought that the vessels could continue in operation pending the appeal.
I emphasized the embarrassment caused the Government of the United States by the activities of the Belgian agents in Panama against the interests of the United States.