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

The Afghan Minister came in to see me at his request. He said that in view of the conference proceeding in Moscow,20 his Government wished him to make certain observations. Recalling the Russo-British arrangements regarding the zone of influence in Persia in 1908 [1907],21 and noting certain press reports that Iranian questions might come up at Moscow, the Afghan Government wished us to take note of certain unsettled questions, namely:

The fact that the Afghan frontier from Lake Victoria to Taghdumbash was already fixed by an Afghan–British treaty and the Afghan Government could not consider discussing it in any way.
The line from Victoria Lake to Khamiab (running along the line of the River Oxus and dividing Afghanistan from the U. S. S. R.) is a point in dispute. The Afghans claim that the frontier is in the middle of the stream, with equal navigation rights; the Russians at various times claim that their rights go to the Afghan shore. There is no treaty covering this.
Afghanistan still claims the right to territory seized by the Russians in 1884, or thereabouts; claims that the Russian rights were renounced by a letter from Lenin22 but that the Russians never held the proposed plebiscite or evacuated the territory.
There is an accumulation of little claims due to Russian seizure of arms and money and to their confiscation of 700 or 800 caracul lambs which were pastured on the Soviet side and seized.
There is an outstanding question with Britain which relates to the northwest frontier and to territory on the Indian side of the present frontier claimed by Afghanistan. The Afghans claimed the territory and their claim was rejected, whereupon the Afghan Government accepted the line so long as the British controlled India, but, by agreement with the British, reserved their right to re-open the question should India gain her independence.

I said that I had no reason to believe Afghan questions would come up at the Moscow Conference, and in any case we were not interested. I was glad to take note of the state of affairs. But I thought that his Government was unduly concerned.

Of more importance, the Afghan Minister said that there had been some talk of seeking Afghan air bases and roads. The British had asked this and had been refused; and at the time of the occupation of Iran the Grand Council of Afghans had determined that should any attempt be made to occupy those fields, Afghanistan would fight. They might last only a few hours or a few days, but they were going to fight anyhow if foreign troops were moved inside their borders.

I said that the Afghan Minister’s views would receive consideration from this Government.

The Minister said that when the British had proposed that Afghan troops be made available to them, the Afghan Government had replied by proposing instead that Afghan troops would enter the war and fight side by side with the British if the British gave them arms. This the British had declined to do. (Though my knowledge of the northwest frontier is limited, I can readily see that the British might not want to arm a large Afghan force up there.)

A[dolf ] A. B[erle], Jr.
  1. For correspondence on the meeting of Foreign Ministers at Moscow October 18–November 1, 1943, see vol. i, pp. 513 ff.
  2. Convention between Great Britain and Russia, signed at St. Petersburg, August 31, 1907, Foreign Relations, 1907, pt. 1, p. 550.
  3. Nikolai Lenin, first Soviet Chief of State, 1917–24.