859A.20/165: Telegram

The Chargé in Iceland (Barnes) to the Secretary of State

134. The Legation is negotiating with the Icelandic Government for the use of land required for the construction of a large airfield urgently called for in the plans for the defense of Iceland. The War Department has now made available the funds for this important installation but has directed that construction not be started until acquisition of all the necessary land has been completed.

The urgency of the matter has been impressed upon the Government, which is now considering ways and means most expeditiously to turn the site over to our military authorities and to meet their requirements with respect to security in a surrounding area of approximately 100 square miles. When discussing these matters with me a few days ago, the Minister for Foreign Affairs raised the question of ownership of the installation after the war. He said that we recognize the principle, does the British Government, that military installations constructed on land made available by the Government will become the property of the Icelandic State at the end of the war.

The British Minister has informed me that this is accepted by his Government to be the case with respect to the two aerodromes built by the British on land made available by the Government. The British Minister has also informed me of his Government’s recent approach to the Department on the subject of joint American-British negotiations with the Icelandic Government looking to an agreement that would assure most-favored-nation treatment to American and British air companies with respect to the post-war use of airfields constructed in Iceland by the America and British forces. The Minister said that the Department had replied that perhaps the time and circumstances were inopportune far such negotiations as an agreement reached at this time might be criticized as having been negotiated under pressure, but that the matter would be looked into again with Minister MacVeagh7 upon his arrival in Washington. The Minister urged me to consult with General Bonesteel, and to report our views to the Department, especially if we agree with him that the Icelandic authorities could not take umbrage at such a proposal, and would consider it as only natural under the circumstances.

I have consulted with General Bonesteel and the two of us agree that there is much to be said in favor of the British suggestion, particularly as the Minister for Foreign Affairs has paved the way for [Page 4] such a proposal by us at the present time by raising the question of the ownership of the projected American airfield at the close of the war. However, General Bonesteel has emphasized the need for speed in constructing this airfield and he has asked that pending the receipt of a reply to this telegram the Legation continue to press for the early completion of the steps necessary to give the army possession of the needed land.

  1. American Minister to Iceland, on leave in the United Staffs at this time.