Truman Papers

No. 679
Memorandum by the Assistant to the President’s Naval Aide (Elsey)1

top secret

The Dardanelles

When Churchill was in Moscow in October 1944, Stalin opened discussions on the revision of the Montreux Convention.2 This Convention, signed in July 1936 by Russia, Great Britain, Turkey, France, Japan and four Balkan nations,3 established rules for the passage of commercial vessels and warships through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus. Stalin said he wanted the Convention modified to allow free passage at all times of Russian warships. It was agreed by Stalin and Churchill that the Soviet Government would present notes through diplomatic channels to the U. S. and Great Britain setting forth detailed proposals. Churchill informed President Roosevelt of Stalin’s views and said that he had not contested the Soviet proposal because “revision is clearly necessary as Japan is a signatory.”4

The Soviet Government did not send diplomatic notes, however, and the Montreux Convention did not come up again until 10 February 1945 at Yalta.5 Soviet desires were then stated as follows:

Marshal Stalin then said that he would like to say a few words about the Montreux Convention regarding the Dardanelles. He said the treaty was now outmoded. As he recalled, the Japanese Emperor played a big part in the treaty, even greater than that of the Soviet Union. The treaty was linked with the League which does not exist just as the Japanese Emperor was not present at this [Page 1011] Conference. Under the Montreux Convention the Turks have the right to close the Straits not only in time of war but if they feel that there is a threat of war. He said that the treaty was made at a time when the relations between Great Britain and the Soviet Union were not perfect, but he did not think now that Great Britain would wish to strangle Russia with the help of the Japanese. The treaty needed revision. He thought that there would be no objection to a consideration of the revision of that treaty. He said in what manner the treaty should be revised he did not know and he did not wish to prejudge any decisions, but he felt that the interests of Russia should be considered. He said that it was impossible to accept a situation in which Turkey had a hand on Russia’s throat. He added, however, that it should be done in such a manner as not to harm the legitimate interests of Turkey.”

Churchill agreed with Stalin that the treaty needed revision and, although President Roosevelt made no specific remarks about the Montreux Convention, he too appeared to agree that revision was desirable.

After a brief discussion, Churchill and Stalin agreed that the Soviet Government would put forward proposals relating to the Montreux Convention at the next meeting of the three Foreign Secretaries in London and that the Turkish Government should be informed. This agreement was approved by the President.

There has been no reference to the Montreux Convention in Presidential dispatches since the Yalta Conference. There has not been a meeting as planned of the three Foreign Secretaries in London and the Soviet Government can be expected to make its proposals concerning the Dardanelles at the forthcoming Berlin Conference.

G. M. Elsey
  1. Submitted to Leahy July 1 and subsequently forwarded to Truman.
  2. For the text of this convention regarding the regime of the Straits, which was signed at Montreux, July 20, 1936, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clxxiii, p. 213. Text of the substantive provisions also in Harry N. Howard, The Problem of the Turkish Straits (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1947; Department of State publication No. 2752), p. 25. For a tabular comparison of the provisions of conventions regulating the Straits from 1840 to 1936, see ibid., pp. 29–33.
  3. i. e., Bulgaria, Greece, Rumania, and Yugoslavia.
  4. See Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, p. 328.
  5. See ibid., pp. 903905. Cf. pp. 909910, 916917.