The Ambassador in Spain ( Hayes ) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 4—9:24 p.m.]
377. I called on the Minister of Foreign Affairs by appointment. I said I could inform him that according to my best knowledge the only statement made by the American radio concerning petroleum exports to Spain was the brief factual statement made by Secretary Hull and that the American radio had not attacked Spain or Spanish Government. Furthermore my Government had made representations to London in the sense that BBC attacks should cease and to my best [Page 320] knowledge BBC had not commented on situation during last 48 hours. I and my Government wished to collaborate fully in avoiding publicity embarrassing to Spain and to confine negotiations to diplomatic channels.
With the quieting of publicity I hoped he and I, who had the same end in view, might reach some conclusions that I might in the very near future report to my Government. There are certain difficulties not numerous but important. It would be very helpful to me if he would enable me to report in near future along following lines:
- The Spanish Government is giving serious attention to subject of wolfram and German credits. He personally approves and endorses the informal conversations now being carried on between Undersecretary of Foreign Relations and Messrs. Ackerman and Ellis Rees.53 He will speed them to an early and satisfactory conclusion and meanwhile no further licenses will be granted for export of wolfram to Germany.
- He will let me have specific information about what the Spanish Government is actually doing concerning German agents and German sabotage and concerning final withdrawal of remaining Spanish soldiers from eastern fronts of Germany.
- Spanish Government will release Italian warships and all but two of Italian merchant vessels. On latter point I would like to develop and resume whole case.
The Minister thanked me for the statement I had made about my desire to have publicity stopped and for what had been done.
As he had told me previously and had told the British Ambassador yesterday all pending problems between Spain and United Nations were now very nearly ready for satisfactory solution. Some were already solved, so far as Spain was concerned. For example the presence of Spanish soldiers in Russia or Germany.
The great question was how to satisfy us in all these respects so long as the appearance given in Spain and to the world was that it was being done under duress. It had been made only too clear by Washington that the petroleum loadings had been suspended in order to force Spain to do certain things favorable to the Allies. This fact makes it practically impossible for Spain to yield. It creates a most difficult situation for the Government and prompts a dangerous reaction in public opinion of which Germans are sure to take full advantage.
Nevertheless despite this most serious drawback he is optimistic that the American Government can find a formula which will provide a way out. It should not be a difficult task to find a proper formula and the Spanish Government stands ready within a few days thereafter to take favorable action on our requests.[Page 321]
He would be ready to give us his guarantee in advance. It will be very unfortunate if the crisis is unduly prolonged. The sooner it can be surmounted the better it will be for all concerned and he would repeat that it should not prove difficult to find the necessary formula.
The Minister hoped I would appreciate the importance and truth of this position. It was necessary in his opinion to impress on the world the fact that Spain was not merely yielding to pressure. The Spanish Government had the utmost good will toward the United States. It hoped the United States Government would reciprocate by showing its good will toward Spain. He was very anxious to find a way out and he thought a formula could be devised.
As he understood the situation the American Government had raised the question of the general trend in Spain. [Apparent omission] foreign policy and had merely cited specific instances of what it thought was a trend unfavorable to the United Nations. He wished to assure me most emphatically on his own part and that of the whole Government for which he was authorized to speak that the American Government was quite mistaken in imagining that the trend was unfavorable to the United Nations. The trend was steadily against the Axis and in favor of the United Nations.
He said he would now propose to me in strictest confidence, the confidence to be respected also by my Government, the main points of what he thought the suggested formula should cover. He had already yesterday suggested the same kind of formula to the British Ambassador. He did not mean to imply that there was anything sacred in the wording or that the points he mentioned necessarily were all-inclusive. It would be rather for the United States to determine the form and content of formula, but if it were to do the good he hoped it would do it should deal with the following points.
It should be in the form of a brief statement from our State Department inasmuch as the earlier publicity surrounded the previous statement made by the Department.
It might assign as its reason the cautioning against placing an exaggerated meaning on the previous statement and there should be three chief points.
- Suspension of petroleum shipments had been only temporary for the month of February.
- Suspension had not been a weapon of pressure or in the nature of an ultimatum.
- Specific problems raised were now in the process of diplomatic negotiations and on the way to solution.
I told him I was glad to have his statement and that I was sure the United States did not wish to humiliate Spain. As I read the official statement of Mr. Hull I did not gather the impression that we were [Page 322] issuing any ultimatum to Spain. I thought, however, that he was quite accurate in his diagnosis of the real situation. I personally, as well as my Government, had been greatly troubled for the last 3 or 4 months about the reluctance and procrastination on the part of the Spanish Government in meeting our reasonable requests.
It was quite natural, therefore, to suppose that Spain was pursuing a policy distinctly more favorable to Germany than to us and the suspension of petroleum shipments raised the question frankly and simply whether Spain wished to go on with a seemingly pro-Axis policy or wished to develop closer cooperation with us. I would transmit his suggestions to my Government.
The Minister said he was very grateful, especially that I would transmit his suggestion, and he felt sure that if I did so it would be of great help. He was sure Washington would find a satisfactory solution. He believed the statement already published by us had been given such wide publicity that an additional published explanation was now needed. It should be done speedily for otherwise the atmosphere will become steadily, and he feared rapidly, worse. I should make it as clear as possible to my Government that Spain simply cannot surrender to pressure. On the other hand there is an insistent need of the two Governments appearing to act on a friendly basis. He hoped the crisis would be solved as quickly as possible. If it were he could assure me most solemnly that we would experience no further trouble from the Spanish side. I then reiterated that I would fully inform my Government and would advise it of the form and content of the formula he proposed. At the same time, however, I felt I must give my Government some direct and specific assurances from him concerning the particular matters at issue, namely German agents and activities; Italian ships; wolfram; continuing presence Spanish military detachments in arms against Russia.
The Minister then took a thick folder labelled Tangier.
He said he could give assurance in confidence to me and my Government solemnly on his own behalf and that of Spanish Government that two of the matters were already and finally settled and would be announced by Spain as soon as the United States Government had issued some kind of statement along the lines suggested.
- Suppression of German Consulate at Tangier and the expulsion of German agents from Spanish zone of Morocco, as well as the sharp diminution of the number of German agents in peninsular Spain with a view to the energetic suppression of all German espionage and sabotage anywhere in Spanish territory.
- Total withdrawal of Spanish legion, Spanish air squadron and Spanish forces under any name or description from Russia and Germany to be carried out immediately.
I would doubtless appreciate not only the importance of these two steps from standpoint of Allied military interest but also from standpoint of Spain’s position vis-à-vis Germany. He could tell me that Germany would view both these matters as unfriendly acts by Spain and would be bound to retaliate against Spain. Nevertheless the Spanish Government has fully determined to carry them into full effect in spite of what Germany might do.
On the subject of wolfram he felt sure that a solution of the problem favorable to us would be arranged. Negotiations were proceeding, he believed, very satisfactorily and there is certainly a strong will on the part of the Spanish Government that a satisfactory solution be found in the very near future. He had noted what I said about a temporary embargo on the export of wolfram pending the conclusion of these negotiations. He did not wish to commit himself on this point because if, against his own wishes, negotiations should prove protracted Spain would, in effect, have given in without negotiation. Besides he would remind me that Portugal, an ally of Great Britain, has not been asked to do nearly as much in this regard as Spain which is not an ally of Britain.
About the Italian merchant ships he felt, through conversations with the British Ambassador, that he was in a fair way to arrive at a solution satisfactory to all concerned.
Concerning Italian warships, this was a much more complicated and difficult matter. Different points of view had [been] put before him concerning the proper interpretation of international law. In view of these conflicting interpretations, he felt that the question of the release of the Italian warships was less a legal question than a political one.
If Spain accepted the American viewpoint it would thereby be making an important contribution to the American side of the war by adding considerable strength to the American Navy. In that event he felt that Spain was entitled to compensation, and in view of the fact that Germany would bitterly resent Spain’s accepting the American point of view and would very likely threaten Spain in a serious way, the best compensation Spain could secure from the United States would be defensive armaments and aviation gasoline for Spanish military planes.
I told the Minister I was glad to have his assurances about Tangier and the Spanish zone of Morocco, and the suppression of German espionage and sabotage all over Spain, as well as his assurance about a final and complete withdrawal of all Spanish forces from the war against Russia.
About wolfram, I shared his hope and expectation that negotiations need not be protracted. I could not see why with good will on both [Page 324] sides the matter could not be brought to a satisfactory solution within a month, and, consequently, when I had asked for a temporary embargo pending negotiations I had had in mind a month or two.
To go back to the Italian warships I should like to resume your contentions in the matter. I was sure my Government had the right to insist on the release of the Italian warships on grounds of equity. The vessels were admitted to Spanish waters, and once they were admitted fuel and provisions had to be given to them. Only the Spanish State, under Spain’s present economy, could furnish the fuel, and to date it has not done so. It should do so at once and as soon as it does the vessels will depart within 24 or 48 hours thereafter.
Furthermore, there was a second argument. When the war vessels entered Spanish waters, Italy was still at peace with Germany and at war with Great Britain and the United States. Hence, if these powers and Italy both asked for their release Germany had no grievance against Spain, and Spain, instead of favoring one belligerent over another was satisfying both belligerents equally, and therefore fulfilling her neutral obligations by releasing the ships. I had made this point in a supplementary note.
However, there is still a third very strong argument, and one which for special reasons I have not put into writing for formal presentation. It is the argument of impartiality.
I was well aware as was my Government that there were cases in 1941 and 1942 when Axis warships had been permitted to repair damage to themselves in Spanish ports resulting not only from sea voyages but from acts of war, and after relatively long periods had been allowed to leave Spanish ports. If Spain had permitted damage of such importance to be repaired in its ports, then there is still greater obligation to provide the Italian warships with fuel to permit them to continue their voyage. This is strict law, because impartiality is the essence of neutrality.
I asked how in the light of such a clear case, Spain could hold these Italian warships and still be neutral. I wondered whether his expert advisers could have argued otherwise, and if so, what their arguments could have been. I did not feel this matter had to be considered as a political question. It was a question of law and of Spain’s obligations as a neutral. I did not see how compensation was involved. If all the other matters were satisfactorily adjusted and Spain made perfectly clear it was cooperating fully and clearly with the United Nations, the question of arms and gasoline could be raised and settled on its own merits and not as compensation. I had no idea the United States would give compensation for this or that specific thing. It would depend on Spain’s whole attitude.
The Minister said he was relieved to note that for the moment I was not insisting on a total, permanent embargo on wolfram exports. [Page 325] Perhaps it could be arranged but it certainly would require more negotiation. He was willing to put into effect a temporary embargo as I had suggested, and he too hoped the wolfram negotiation would be successfully terminated in a month.
He said he did not have time to develop the Spanish legal case as he viewed it concerning the warships, but he could assure me Spain would act in strict accordance with its neutral obligations. The final decision about the warships had not been [apparent omission] and he was still anxious to find a legal way out of the difficulty.
- Hugh Ellis-Rees, Economic Adviser of the British Embassy in Spain.↩