740.00113 European War 1939/494: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant) to the Secretary of State

5422. Referring to your 3400, July 22, midnight, 3592, July 31, 8 p.m., and 4036, August 25, 7 p.m. and to Embassy’s 4155, July 25, 5 p.m., 4181, July 27, 9 p.m., and 4293, August 1, 9 p.m. A revised draft text of the proposed declaration on the transfer of property rights and interests in territories occupied or controlled by the Axis has now been completed, and will probably be agreed to within a few days by the countries represented at the meetings of Finance Ministers of Allied Governments established in London and the representatives of Great Britain and the British Dominions.

(1) Revised draft text for declaration:

The revised draft text of the proposed declaration is as follows:

“The blank governments and the French National Committee:

“Hereby issue a formal warning to all concerned, and in particular to persons in neutral countries, that they intend to do their utmost [Page 78]to defeat the methods of dispossession practiced by the Axis powers and their associates against the countries and peoples whom they have so wantonly assaulted and despoiled.

“Accordingly, the governments making this declaration and the French National Committee reserve all their rights to declare invalid any transfers of, or dealings with, property rights and interests of any description whatsoever which are, or have been, situated in the territories which have come under the occupation or control of the Axis powers and their associates, or which belong or have belonged to persons resident in such territories. This warning applies whether such trade or dealings have taken the form of open looting or plunder or of transactions apparently legal in form and purporting to be voluntarily effected.

“The governments making this declaration and the French National Committee solemnly record their solidarity in this matter.”

This draft is the result of long informal discussions, followed by a further meeting of Allied Finance Ministers, the appropriate British authorities, and representatives of the British Dominions. In the course of these discussions a number of difficulties arose on matters of detail. For a time a few of the Allied Governments established in London particularly Belgium, requested an extension of the declaration to include a statement of obligation on the part of all signatories to assist each other’s nationals to recover their property, rights and interests under reciprocity. There Was a danger that such extensions of the declaration would tend to convert it into a treaty and thus cause much delay, and defeat the main purpose of the declaration as defined in the last sentence of Embassy’s 4155, July 25, 5 p.m. The Belgian Government was persuaded to withdraw its requests after a general reference to the solidarity of the governments in the matter had been introduced into the last sentence of the revised draft.

The form of the draft declaration has been slightly revised with a view to giving it more forcefulness for propaganda purposes. As regards the points raised in Department’s 4036 of August 27 [25], 7 p.m., the first of the two suggestions of the Department, relating to the last part of the first paragraph in the original draft text, has been incorporated in the first sentence of the second paragraph of the present draft text with slight verbal differences. The Department’s second suggestion relating to the second paragraph of the original text, has resulted in the elimination from the present draft text of the superfluous phraseology in the original draft text. But the sentence which the Department suggested should constitute the second paragraph, and all but the last word of which had appeared also in the original draft, has now been dropped, together with the warning to neutral governments in the first sentence of the original draft.

The explanation of this change is that the conception in the original draft of addressing the warning to neutral governments came from [Page 79]British Treasury. But the Foreign Office has since come to the conclusion that not only would no useful purpose be served by warning neutral governments or asking neutral governments to warn their nationals, but that the effect on some of the neutral governments would be distinctly harmful. The Allied Governments in London concur in this view.

Consequently the warning is directed in the revised text “to all concerned and in particular to persons in neutral countries”, and not to governments. The declaration will be made known through publication and continual broadcasting. It is thought that in some of the neutral countries the attention of the governments might be drawn informally to the declaration but that in certain cases it may be better even to omit this, depending on the judgment of the British and American diplomatic authorities on the spot.

(2) China. The Foreign Office fully accepted the Department’s views on Chinese participation but, as explained in Embassy’s 4293 of August 1, 9 p.m., Under Secretary Law had already approached the Soviet Union before Department’s 3592 of July 31, 8 p.m. was received here, and had invited Soviet views on an approach to China.

The Foreign Office therefore felt that in these circumstances it was unavoidable that the approach to China should follow the receipt of the Russian reply. After further approaches by the Foreign Office this reply has now been received and the Chinese are being consulted here on the declaration.

(3) Nations joining the declaration. The Department’s views expressed in its 4036, August 25, 7 p.m. were explained to the Foreign Office and the other appropriate British authorities. They fully agree that the wider the declaration the better, provided undue delay could he avoided. It was felt, however, that a United Nations declaration would probably not be practicable because not all the United Nations are in identical positions in relation to Japan and it would be undesirable to direct the declaration exclusively against the European members of the Axis.

The Soviet reply, which has now been received, expresses strong approval of the declaration. However, because of its position with reference to Japan, Russia does not wish to join the other powers but will make a separate declaration of its own applying only to the European members of the Axis. This will be issued simultaneously with or shortly after the declaration of the other powers.

The committee at the meeting on September 23rd expressed the wish that the declaration should be made in the first place by the countries ordinarily represented on the Committee of Allied Finance Ministers and British Government authorities together with the United States and China and that provision should be made for other countries that [Page 80]wished to do so to associate themselves with the declaration later. This would include the following: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Fighting French, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia, Great Britain, the British Dominions, the United States and China. The Embassy observer was asked to convey this view to his Government and to express the hope of the committee that it would be acceptable. Foreign Office and Treasury representatives emphasized privately that experience with the declaration has already shown the dangers of prolonged delays resulting from detailed textual discussions among a large number of countries.

Would you please let us know as soon as possible whether the revised draft text is acceptable? Methods of announcing and giving publicity to the text will be taken up by the Foreign Office with us as soon as agreement has been reached on the text.

Winant