The Chargé in Mexico (Bursley) to the Adviser on Political Relations (Duggan)

Dear Larry: A few days ago when I was at the Foreign Office, just as I was leaving Torres Bodet’s9 office after talking to him about other matters, he brought up the question of the distribution of the waters of the Colorado River again, emphasizing in a number of ways the keen interest of the Mexican Government in a prompt solution. He said that it was really imperative for the Mexican Government to have a solution.

What I consider the most important point raised by Torres Bodet—although it was not the first point in the conversation—was that the [Page 594] Mexican Government, while it would be very reluctant to do so, had decided that in the event it could not reach a solution as between governments, it would have to ask us to submit the question to arbitration. He said that he realized this would be a very difficult and unfortunate step to take, given the excellent relations between the two countries and the fact that they had been able recently to work out so many problems. He said it would not look well for the Mexican Government to resort to this step. He also stated that the questions such as claims which had been settled were really transitory and not fundamental, and that accordingly the water question was far more important. He suggested that a solution would really cement good relations, and in this connection I understood him to say that it would not be prudent for the Mexican Government to do anything about Chamizal10 until the water question was solved.

I do not know whether it would be wise at this particular stage to use this information in a discreet way in talking to the representatives of the Colorado River Basin States. It might, however, make something of an impression on them.

Torres Bodet asked me whether it would help us were the Mexican Government to bring up this matter in a written communication, and I told him I thought it would be better for the present not to present this suggestion of a possible demand for arbitration to us in any formal way.

I told Torres Bodet that I had been in correspondence with you regarding our reply to the informal memorandum handed to Ambassador Messersmith by Señor Padilla some time ago,11 and that I thought our reply would be forthcoming very soon.

He asked me whether the Ambassador was discussing the water problem in Washington and I said that I doubted that he was dealing with any of the technical aspects, but no doubt he was discussing with the appropriate officials in Washington the well-understood desire of the Mexican Government to have the question solved.

I took advantage of this opportunity to say that the Department was awaiting the Foreign Office’s reply to the Department’s memorandum of November 4, 1942;12 in this connection I said that it had been my understanding that in requesting Ambassador Messersmith to have me engage in informal conversations with officials of the Ministry on the water problem, it had been the desire of the Foreign Minister that I cooperate with these officials in the formulation of a [Page 595] reply with a view to mutual understanding. Torres Bodet said that his understanding of the motives behind the Minister’s request was that the Minister desired to accomplish two objectives: namely, to expedite negotiations and particularly to try to avoid exchanges of polemics on the subject. (It seems to me that this is a rather revealing statement and explains the subsequent action of the Foreign Office in endeavoring to precipitate matters much more than had been the Department’s intention or mine. If the Ambassador is still available, I wish you would be good enough to check with him as to the Minister’s explanation of why he wanted this Embassy to have informal collateral talks to supplement the activities going on concurrently in Washington.)

I also said to Torres Bodet that I imagined our reply to Padilla’s informal memorandum would probably indicate a willingness on our part to have the eventual water treaty signed in Mexico City, but that I thought the Department, because of the greater accessibility of data and its missionary work with the Committee of Sixteen,12a would prefer to have actual negotiations remain in the United States as at present. Torres Bodet said that he thought it would be helpful to Mexico were the treaty signed here, but he appeared to be convinced that some of the negotiations could take place in Mexico City, although he did indicate that it might possibly be a good idea to take no further action until the Ambassador returns here.

Sincerely yours,


P/s—In reading over the third paragraph to begin on page 2, I find that I have not made as clear as I had intended the distinction between what I had understood to be Padilla’s desire, and the Minister’s desire as explained by Torres Bodet. The distinction is this: It was my understanding that a reply would go forward to our memorandum of November 4, but that it was thought advisable to have me go over the Mexican reply with officials of the Foreign Office before it was in final form; as I understood the statement of Torres Bodet, it was to the effect that the Minister thought a lot could be accomplished orally without the necessity for further written exchanges. I think the Ambassador understood that the conferences were primarily with a view to having the reply to the memorandum of November 4 as satisfactory as possible to us, or at least to explore the possibility of having it as satisfactory as possible. If it is the case that the Minister did not explain accurately to the Ambassador his, the Minister’s, desires in the matter, this would seem to be the whole nub of the misunderstanding which seems to have developed. However, by dwelling on this point I do not mean to suggest that any harm has been done or that the Embassy is in a position from which it cannot withdraw. HSB.

  1. Jaime Torres Bodet, Mexican Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
  2. A tract of some 600 acres at El Paso, the possession of which by the United States was challenged in 1895 by Mexico and ultimately submitted to arbitration. The award split the area in such a way on such a basis that the United States refused to accept it. See Foreign Relations, 1911, pp. 565 ff.; ibid., 1913, 957 ff., and bracketed note, ibid., 1933, vol. v, pp. 823824.
  3. Ezequiel Padilla, Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs. Presumably reference is to memorandum of December 31, 1942, not printed.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. vi, p. 561.
  5. Committee composed of two representatives of each State of the Basin and two from the Power Allottees who take electric energy from Boulder Dam.