740.0011 European War 1939/19261

The Ambassador in Argentina (Armour) to the Secretary of State

No. 4035

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that I called this morning on the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Rothe. [Page 374] This was the first occasion I have had to see Dr. Rothe since my two day visit to Rio de Janeiro, and we naturally discussed the conference.8

I was disappointed, if not surprised, to find that the events that had transpired at Rio de Janeiro since I had last seen him did not appear to have changed his position or sentiments. He continued to put forth the argument that Argentina in not having broken diplomatic relations with the Axis Powers was in a better position to assist the United States through the exporting of essential materials to us without the attendant risk of having their ships sunk. I pointed out that although relations between the United States and the Axis Powers had not been broken prior to December, this had not prevented Germany from sinking United States vessels. Dr. Rothe admitted this, but insisted that if any attacks were made against Argentine vessels, this would of course lead immediately to a break in relations or declaration of war on their part. He then went on to develop his time-worn argument that Argentina was not in a position to defend itself against attack: that a break in relations would inevitably lead to war and that his Government felt a sense of responsibility to the people not to put themselves in this vulnerable position until they had material to defend themselves. These he said they hoped to obtain from the United States.

I told Dr. Rothe that he must of course realize that the situation had changed materially since the Rio de Janeiro Conference: that as I had pointed out to him in previous conversations, following their own line of argument that if ruptured relations submitted a nation to the danger of attack, those nations which had taken the step must be the ones first served and that we would make every effort to see that they received such materials as they required. I expressed the opinion that this argument applied not only to war materials, but also to other strategic materials, of which there was a growing scarcity in the United States; that where the people of the United States were making great sacrifices to go without such articles but were willing to see such materials supplied to countries which had taken a definite stand with the United States and the democracies, public opinion would certainly not favor having such materials sent to countries which had not made clear their position of solidarity with us. He appeared to admit the logic of these arguments but again reverted to the position in which Argentina found itself and insisted that aside from other considerations, owing to the internal situation it would be impossible for the Government to break relations [Page 375] with the Axis Powers at the present time. In any case, they would have to await the regular session of Congress in May, but in the meantime they would of course carry out scrupulously the commitments taken at Rio de Janeiro.

I pointed out to the Minister that nineteen countries having already severed relations, with the probability that Chile would take similar action following the elections next Sunday, this would, I felt, put his country in a very difficult position. As the only country maintaining relations with the Axis it was obvious that the latter countries would concentrate their activities in Argentina, using it as a focal point from which to conduct their subversive activities not only within the country itself but throughout Latin America. While I had no doubt that Argentina would endeavor scrupulously to carry out the commitments taken at Rio de Janeiro with regard to suppressing Axis propaganda, subversive activities, etc., I felt sure he would agree that this would be far more difficult for them than for those countries which had already severed relations with the Axis.

I also called Dr. Rothe’s attention to the interview published in Noticias Grdáficas some days ago attributing to the Acting President9 statements to the effect that Argentina’s position had not changed and that the Government would take no pre-belligerent action such as breaking relations with the Axis Powers. I said that if the Acting President was correctly reported, his statement would seem to be inconsistent with the formula which they themselves had submitted and which had been approved by the twenty-one governments at Rio de Janeiro recommending a rupture of relations with the Axis.

Dr. Rothe parried by saying that the Acting President had perhaps been incorrectly reported.

I shall take the first opportunity to see the Argentine Foreign Minister, Dr. Ruiz Guiñazú, after his return, but in the meantime it seemed advisable to lose no time in bringing home to the Acting Foreign Minister certain salient truths which I was happy to find during my visit to Rio de Janeiro in conversations with the Under Secretary and other members of our delegation represented their views and which, after their return to the Department, will, I presume, be issued in the form of definite instructions as to the policy to be followed here until such time as the Argentine Government may decide to alter its present course.

Respectfully yours,

Norman Armour
  1. The Third Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the American Republics held at Rio de Janeiro, January 15–28, 1942; for correspondence, see pp. 6 ff.
  2. Ramón Castillo.