711.52/321: Telegram

The Ambassador in Spain ( Hayes ) to the Secretary of State

293. The Foreign Minister summoned me to the Foreign Office last night. He said that within the last 24 hours some very important [Page 310] news has been received in Spain over the radio from London and from New York about a decision taken by the United States to cancel petroleum shipments to Spain throughout February and for an indefinite term thereafter. This news has come as a terrible shock to him and to the Spanish Government. Mr. Ackerman39 had recently indicated to the Foreign Office that there might be some technical difficulty about the loadings of petroleum products in the early part of the coming month. At midday today, however, the Minister had learned over the radio that the loading schedule for February 21 and 22 would be the first of a series of loadings to be suspended by the American Government. He would remind me that as recently as last Thursday40 I had had a long talk with him in the course of which I had said that I feared the result on the American economic program of Spanish delays in meeting our requests, that the economic program of the United States was based on reciprocity by Spain and that we would have to reconsider our economic program if our reasonable requests were not met. At the same time I had made a personal appeal to the Minister for favorable attention to our request about wolfram. He had then given explanations to the effect that Spain was very anxious to meet our wishes in the matter and that he was preparing a memorandum which he hoped very shortly to submit to me. I had seemed satisfied with the explanation and expressed the desire to receive the memorandum in the near future. He imagined therefore that negotiations were proceeding satisfactorily to both parties concerned.

Now very suddenly my Government was adopting extreme measures. He could not hide from me the terrible disillusionment and disappointment on the part of the Spanish Government and on the part of what he was sure was Spanish public opinion. As personally responsible for Spanish foreign policy he was much upset and felt that a bitter disappointment about the kind of statements now made over the American radio. The worst part was that this kind of publicity made it harder to arrive at a mutually satisfactory conclusion of negotiations. In the first place it involved a threat against Spain’s economic well-being and development, consequences of which would be felt by all classes all over the country. Secondly, in my conversation with him last Thursday I had given him no real warning of what impended in Washington. I had talked about the possibility of a reconsideration of American economic policy toward Spain. Thirdly, we were now advertising to the world a prospective action against Spain without informing the Spanish Government in advance that we contemplated any such action. Fourthly, the putting of our public [Page 311] threat into practice would be bound to effect a profound change in the relations between the two countries. Finally he must remind me that Spain had had formal guarantee from the United States at the time of our landing in North Africa41 which Spain took seriously and which the present action of the United States placed in doubt.

He begged me to think carefully and closely and thoroughly about the whole situation thus newly created and about Spanish public opinion concerning it. Within the last few months Spain has been better prepared than ever before to act in strict accordance with a real neutrality, and yet just at the moment when this is reaching fruition Spain is attacked by propaganda from America and England. I must understand that the Minister himself is in a very difficult situation. All along he has been pro-Allied and now he must bear the brunt of Allied attacks upon his policy, so that exactly the opposite result will follow from what we desire.

The Minister can think of no better German-Axis propaganda than what the American and British radios are now giving out. It is bound to create hostility to the Allies in Spain and to be exploited by Axis propaganda as positive proof to the world as to how impossible it is for a neutral country to have any fair or normal dealings with the United Nations.

Spain, the Minister knows, is ready to fulfill all the duties of strict neutrality yet it becomes very difficult for the Minister to fight and win out in the battle within Spain for strict neutrality inasmuch as certain private economic circles that are critical of him will now be able to discredit him and the policy he has been pursuing.

The Minister fears very much that everything he explains will not be properly appreciated by my Government but he feels it a duty laid upon him by his conscience to explain the situation and to give frank warning. Without his frankness and sense of loyalty and his knowledge of his country and its attitude of mind we might be unaware of the solemn fact that the mutual relations between the United States and Spain are certain to be seriously affected by the recent radio news. He would appreciate my giving him whatever information I possess concerning the truth of the radio reports and any details I may have concerning the proposals of my Government in order that if no more petroleum supplies are to be furnished to Spain the proper authorities here may issue public instructions accordingly.

I then replied to the Foreign Minister along the following lines. Firstly, I reminded him that according to existing procedure there [Page 312] were three loadings of petroleum products in the Caribbean for Spam every month, the first on the 1st or 2nd of the month, the second on the 11th and 12th and the third on the 21st and 22nd. The first of these loadings for the coming month of February had been suspended solely for technical reasons because a preliminary notification of the nomination of tankers had not been made by the Spanish authorities and that this was the loading undoubtedly to which Mr. Ackerman had referred. Subsequently we had received word from Washington that the second loading scheduled for February 11th–12th had been suspended but we had not been informed why. When I had talked with the Foreign Minister on Thursday I did not know that the third loading scheduled for February 21st–22nd had been suspended. It was only the next day, Friday, yesterday, that I had received word to this effect and it had been immediately communicated to the proper Spanish authorities. It was true consequently that all February loadings were suspended. I was without any instructions from Washington about these being the first of any later series of suspensions and I assumed therefore that February suspensions were temporary and did not necessarily mean any permanent cancellation of our petroleum or other economic program with Spain. Further I stated that Doffing42 had recently arrived in Spain to discuss with Smith petroleum program for Spain for first half 1914. Hitherto it had been customary for Smith to go to Washington to arrange each 6-month petroleum program but this year Doffing, a representative of State Department, had come to Spain to arrange it. Consequently I assumed the Department had no intention of cancelling general petroleum program for 1944 and that suspension of it in month of February was special. I supposed it might be possible if other arrangements were satisfactory to make up for losses to Spain through suspension in February of correspondingly larger shipments in March or April.

Nevertheless I must emphasize importance of these other arrangements to which I had just referred. I must remind the Minister that during past 3 months my Government had been making urgent and repeated requests of Spanish Government which were deemed thoroughly reasonable as well as important and in strict keeping with Spanish neutrality and which, however, Spanish Government had constantly delayed in granting. These requests included embargo on wolfram or submission of any counter-proposal about it; release of Italian warships; release of Italian merchant vessels: diminution of German agents in Spain especially in Tangier and curbing of their activities; clarification of status of remaining members of Blue Division [Page 313] on Russian front or in Germany. I reminded him further of my conversation with him on January 343 and of its unsatisfactory outcome which I had been obliged to report to Washington especially concerning wolfram embargo and Italian warships. He must be aware of close relations between Spanish delay in acting upon any of these requests and continuance of our petroleum and other economic program in Spain. I had no doubt that Department of State in Washington was exhausted by delays and nonactivity on part of Spanish Government in these important respects and that its suspension of petroleum shipments was natural warning to Spain.

I also told [garbled group] from Washington on Thursday shortly after my last conversation with him to effect that on preceding Tuesday44 or Wednesday Ambassador Cárdenas was to be informed by Department of substance of statement which now Department had publicly issued.

Foreign Minister then said that news emanating on radio from London and Washington was almost literally to effect that having lost faith in Spanish promises to fulfill neutrality obligations American Government as result of suggestions made by British Government has decided to suspend petroleum loadings beginning next month. This news he had heard himself at noon today and it was being repeated hour in and hour out in Spanish, as well as in English, and was being heard all over the country. It was producing intense alarm throughout Spain and filling Petroleum Office here with consternation. The Petroleum Office was now drafting regulations for drastic restrictions of petroleum consumption which could only mean paralysis of whole life of country.

Sudden drastic action of American Government without warning is quite different thing from reconsideration of economic program and the results, the Minister is sure, will be quite opposite to what we want and expect. The American Government should know Spanish people are more easily influenced by kindness than by a whip. Tactics now being followed do not indicate easiest solution of pending problems several of which were otherwise just about ready for solution. He begged me to seek reconsideration of the matter on the part of my Government.

The Minister said he had had no report from Ambassador Cárdenas of any statement whatsoever made to him by the State Department explaining the action or warning him that it might be forthcoming.45 He had reported that he had talked with the Under [Page 314] Secretary of State46 at a dinner in Washington but that the latter offered no explanation.

The Minister said he wished to impress on me most emphatically that the tactics being pursued were everywhere wrong. They would delay greatly instead of expediting a solution of pending problems and they would cost United States vast amount of public sympathy in Spain. Spain was now placed on the defensive against United States instead of being anxious to collaborate with United States.

I said that I was glad the Minister had spoken to me so frankly and fully. I too recognized the drastic results that might ensue from the suspension of petroleum supply during February but I also recognized the extreme procrastination of the Spanish Government in ignoring our fair and legitimate requests over a long period of time. I felt certain that if only some of our requests had been favorably acted upon, my Government would have been reassured some time ago about the sincerity of Spanish claims to neutrality and the present difficult situation for Spain would not have arisen. I still felt that some prompt favorable response must be forthcoming from Spain before I had any chance of prevailing upon my Government to reconsider its economic program favorably to Spain.

The Minister then made a strong personal plea to me to present his views to my Government in as sympathetic a way as possible. He could assure me that Spain would be glad to continue negotiations with United States and seek an outcome favorable to United States if only the embarrassing publicity could be halted and the latest attacks on Spain from London and Washington would stop. Otherwise we were throwing Spain, very greatly against his wishes, into the arms of German propagandists.

I said I would frankly and sincerely present his views to Washington.

Repeated to London.

  1. Ralph H. Ackerman, Commercial Attaché in Spain.
  2. January 27.
  3. For text of President Roosevelt’s message to General Franco on November 8, 1942, assuring Franco that the invasion of North Africa, beginning that day, was in no way directed against the Government of Spain, see Department of State Bulletin, November 14, 1942, p. 906; for correspondence concerning the invasion, see Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. ii, pp. 429 ff.
  4. George W. Doffing was Assistant to the Special Adviser, Office of the Special Adviser on the Eastern Hemisphere, prior to being sent to Spain on a special mission.
  5. See telegram 13, January 4, noon, from Madrid, p. 297.
  6. January 25.
  7. In telegram 323, February 4, 1944, 9 p.m., the Ambassador in Spain was informed that the Department knew as a fact that on January 27 the Spanish Ambassador sent a full account to Jordana of the Department’s explanation of its action in suspending the loading of tankers (711.52/321).
  8. Edward R. Stettinius, Jr.