740.00114 European War 1939/3985

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

3866. Your 3928, June 10th. The following note has today been dispatched to the British Embassy in Washington: [Page 55]

“The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the British Ambassador and has the honor to refer again to His Excellency’s notes dated May 31 and June 9, 1943,5 relative to the proposals made by the Italian and German Governments to the Governments of the United States and Great Britain for the immediate repatriation of the seriously sick and seriously wounded prisoners of war taken by the allied forces in North Africa in return for the repatriation of British and American seriously sick and seriously wounded prisoners in German and Italian hands.

It is the view of the Government of the United States that it should forthwith be agreed with the enemy, as a basic policy for the duration of the war, that seriously sick and seriously injured prisoners of war shall be promptly and mutually repatriated, regardless of the operation in which they were taken and of their rank or number, as provided in and required by the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention. The repatriation of prisoners already taken, whom the respective Governments concede to be eligible for repatriation under the Model Draft Agreement attached to the Geneva Convention or otherwise, should in the opinion of the American Government proceed without delay. The prompt inspection of all other cases by Mixed Medical Commissions, and their repatriation without delay if found eligible therefor, should also be arranged.

The Government of the United States perceives no objection to concerting its reply to the Italian and German proposals with that of the British Government or to setting up the small central organization suggested by the British Government, provided that it is clearly understood that both Governments will pursue the same basic policy of immediate agreement with the enemy outlined in the preceding paragraph, and that the charter of the proposed central organization will not allow deviation from such basic policy but will limit the actions and negotiations of the central organization to the making of administrative arrangements for the speedy carrying out of this policy. Within the ambit described, the Government of the United States would have no objection to authorizing the members of the central organization to take rapid decisions on their own responsibility where no major issues are involved. The Government of the United States is of the opinion, however, that such an organization should be set up in Washington where coordination with the combined Chiefs of Staff and similar combined groups will be most readily possible and where there will be the least occasion for burdening the theater commanders with the problem.

The Government of the United States does not understand the precise implications of the British Government’s suggestion that the Germans shall be required to accept safeguards against breach of faith. The Government of the United States seriously doubts the feasibility of devising effective safeguards to that end and is not inclined to believe that the enemy would be under any special temptation to break [Page 56] faith in the context under discussion, where to do so would promise him no apparent advantage. The Government of the United States believes that the best advance assurances would lie in the prompt making of the agreement and the unconditional and inclusive nature of its terms, and indeed would deplore any other approach to the situation lest it delay or endanger the carrying out of this humane and necessary project.

The Government of the United States is not favorably inclined to raising at this time the question of repatriating the sanitary personnel and chaplains protected under Articles 9 to 13 inclusive of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and the Sick of Armies in the Field (Red Cross Convention),6 described in paragraph 3E of the British Embassy’s note as general protecting personnel. The introduction of this issue might cause differences and delays, especially as the rights and obligations of the parties with respect to protected personnel are not identical with those with respect to the sick and wounded.

The Government of the United States fully agrees with the suggestion of the British Government that all public discussions of this matter should be avoided until agreement with the Italian and German Governments has been reached and has actually begun to operate.

The Government of the United States would be grateful for an early expression of the views of the British Government on the matters treated in this communication.”

  1. Note No. 389 of June 9 not printed; in it the British Ambassador inquired as to whether he might soon expect a reply to the questions raised in his note No. 371 of May 31. In reply the Department informed the Ambassador by a note of June 19 that the matter was receiving urgent consideration and that a further communication would be made at the earliest opportunity (740.00114 EW 1939/3909).
  2. Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, p. 321.