Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

The British Ambassador21 called to see me this morning at my request. I told the Ambassador I had asked him to come in since I wanted to talk over with him the memorandum of the British Embassy dated February 2 which he had left in the Department and which gave the reply of the British Government to the request made by this Government for safe conducts to be issued for the Axis diplomatic and consular officials and other dangerous Axis individuals in the United States and in the Western Hemisphere whom we did not desire to intern here and whom we did desire to deport on a ship chartered for that purpose.

I said it seemed to me to be very clear from this memorandum that the British Government in its reply was motivated solely by the most far reaching ideas as to what constituted its own security and was completely ignoring the very legitimate obligation of the United States Government to consider American security.

I said it should be obvious to the British Government that it was in the vital interest of the United States that Axis diplomatic and consular officials and also dangerous Axis agents of one kind or another should be removed from the other American Republics as quickly as possible. I said this was particularly the case in countries adjacent to the Panama Canal such as Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru and almost equally important in other republics where we were obtaining large quantities of strategic materials the sources of which were exceptionally subject to sabotage. I said that it was impossible for me to admit that internment of these individuals by the countries involved was a satisfactory substitute for the request we had made. I said that the Ambassador and I had both seen in the case of the interned sailors in Argentina from the Graf Spee how easy it was for minor local officials to be induced to facilitate the escape of such persons. I emphasized that it was a matter of primary concern to this Government to get these people out of the other American Republics and that in certain cases it would be impossible to get them out and to get our own nationals released from Axis-occupied countries in Europe unless we could give assurances that the Axis nationals would be permitted to proceed to Europe under safe conduct.

The Ambassador viewed my statement sympathetically and said he would do what might be possible to get his Government to take a more reasonable point of view. He suggested that further conversations be undertaken here in the Department of State with representatives [Page 312] of his Embassy and I said I would be glad to ask that that be done.

I also gave the Ambassador to read telegram 421, February 12, 9 p.m. from the American Embassy in Rio de Janeiro22 which likewise made it very clear that the British Government by the inelastic restrictions which it was imposing upon the exodus of Axis diplomats from Brazil was not only irritating the Brazilian Government, but was making it highly difficult for dangerous Axis nationals to be deported from Brazil.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. Viscount Halifax.
  2. Not printed.