The Ambassador in Spain (Armour) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 21—10:50 a.m.]
1090. British Embassy has now received instructions regarding Laval in a telegram from the British Foreign Office number 392, May 18 and repeated to the British Embassy, Washington, directing the Chargé d’Affaires to inform the Spanish Foreign Office that they cannot accede to the French request that Gibraltar proposal be accepted. They made clear they will not interfere in what they consider to be a purely French–Spanish question and repeat the line taken in former British telegrams that they can see no reason to help Franco out of his present embarrassment.
It seems obvious from what the British Chargé said that the British do not want to be associated in any way with the type of trial or treatment which Laval might receive on his return to France. Although he has been instructed to take this up with the Spanish Foreign Office, Bowker takes the line that the Spanish Government when informed of the British position will revive suggestion that Allied (other than British or French) warships come to Barcelona and interprets his instructions to mean that British Govt would refuse to participate in any such action. He states he is telegraphing British Foreign Office to ascertain from Washington whether our Govt would [Page 717]be willing to have a US vessel go to Barcelona for the purpose since it then would follow—if we did not agree—that our position and the British position were the same.
It is most unlikely that the Spanish Govt will agree to hand over Laval directly to the French for the reasons stated in my previous telegrams as well as those implicit in the British refusal to participate. The British, I believe, overestimate the embarrassment accruing to Franco from this unwelcomed guest if it is brought out later that Laval is not considered by Great Britain and the US or the United Nations as a war criminal and his presence here is merely a question between France and Spain.
In any case, such are the relations between France and Spain at the present time that no speedy acceptance of a French demand could be expected from the Spanish Govt. Meanwhile the longer Laval remains in Spain the more chance there is of his escaping justice. Although this Embassy is not in a position to comment on the British reference to the creation of an undesirable precedent in the use of Gibraltar, the continuation of the present situation in regard to Laval hardly creates the impression of effective action on the part of the United Nations. There is no evidence that the Spanish Govt desires to protect Laval or to delay his departure. It is prepared to hand him over to the United States or Great Britain as a war criminal for trial in France in accordance with a policy which the Spaniards have acknowledged, but to hand him over directly to the French runs counter to treaty and traditional Franco-Spanish practice.