Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

The Greek Minister came in to see me at his request. He referred to previous discussions we had had about the growing starvation in Greece, to his conversation with Mr. Welles and to a conversation he had had with Mr. Norman Davis on Monday of this week.10

He said that the Turkish Government had made available to them a ship, the Kourtoulus, which had made two monthly trips from Turkey to the Piraeus, and had thereby carried food enough to enable the Greek Relief to give one hundred fifty thousand soup rations per day. Now they were informed that the Turkish Government had commandeered the ship.

He wondered whether we could take this up with the Turkish Government, encouraging them, if possible, to revoke the order and permit them to go on using the ship, and to ask that if they could not do that whether the Turkish Government could make any helpful suggestion.

He said that he had agreed with Norman Davis that wheat must be brought into the Near East since there was no surplus of wheat. Egypt and Turkey herself were beginning to go on short rations. The plan he had worked out was as follows:

To see whether wheat could not be loaded on the American transports going to Egypt. He asked whether we would undertake to find out how far this could be done. I said we would endeavor to tackle it with the Maritime Commission.
They had a fleet of ships now operating for the British. Under their agreement with the British they had the right to withdraw two of these to carry foodstuffs to Greece. He proposed to withdraw these ships and start them carrying wheat for Egypt to build up a stock there.
They also had some ships which were being used by the Swiss and they had the right to withdraw one or perhaps two of these ships. With these he proposed to carry the wheat from Egypt to Turkey, and thence to Piraeus. He thought it unlikely that direct communication would be permitted between Egypt and Greece.

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The tragedy of this, he said, was that arrangements might not be completed within two or three months. For that reason he hoped we could expedite matters and keep the Turks supplying some food to Greece. A voyage from the United States to the Near East, at present schedules, took something like sixty days—and many hundreds were dying daily.

I said I would see what could be done about our end of it, and expressed my sympathy and horror at the Greek situation.

A. A. B[erle], Jr.
  1. December 29, 1941.