Memorandum of Conversation, by the Adviser on Inland Transport (Radius)51


Subject: International Control and Resumption of Traffic on the Danube and Rhine Rivers.

Participants: M. Alphand } French Ministry of Foreign Affairs
M. Lebel
Mr. Merchant
Mr. Radius
Mr. Rainey
Mr. Unger

Note: The following memorandum covers only that part of the conversation which dealt with the Danube.

Mr. Radius reviewed several conversations held in London and Washington recently on the subject of an international regime for the Danube River. He pointed out that the United States does not seek permanent membership on any commission which may be established and that his Government’s interest in participating even on a temporary basis is primarily to assist in the establishment of an international body which will assure freedom of navigation on the river. Such participation by the United States could be based either on our position as a victorious power or as an occupying power in Austria.

The United States does not feel itself in a position to take the initiative in advocating the representation of France and Britain on a permanent Danube commission. That Government wishes, however, to proceed with negotiations in such a way that the position taken by it in regard to the Danube regime should not prejudice the long run desire of both the French and British Governments to play a full and permanent part on any commission. The implications as to Russian participation on the Rhine if the United States were to base its position on its status as a victorious power were discussed. On the other hand, basing the United States position on the status of an occupying power implies an end of participation at the end of occupation; this [Page 255] might make it difficult for the French and British to maintain permanent participation.

It was accepted as improbable that any favorable developments on the Danube question would occur at the present meetings of the Foreign Ministers and for the time being a direct approach to the problem appears to be ruled out.

M. Lebel indicated general agreement with the views set forth by Mr. Radius. He said that the French had in mind only two bases on which they might claim immediate French participation on a regulatory body for the Danube: (1) possession by them of barges on the Danube and (2) the Vienna quadripartite agreement of January 2252 concluded by the occupying powers.

In respect to the first point the French mentioned that, of the total Danube fleet, about 5 to 6 percent was held prewar by a French company and 3 percent by a British company. At present the French barges are located principally in the lower course of the river in the neighborhood of Braila and Galatz and, although in Russian hands, are gradually being restored to French possession. These barges are not in movement at the present time. A few French barges are also reported to be in the United States Zone. As in the period before the war the crews of the barges in the lower river are mostly Rumanian with only a few French officials in Braila representing the company’s interests. The French company, the SFND, is financed to the extent of about 85 percent by the French Government.

The January 22 resolution taken by the Austrian Allied Commission and signed, among others, by Marshal Konev was considered by M. Lebel to be a second possible basis for opening discussions on quadripartite supervision of river traffic. While it is difficult to predict whether these discussions would eventually lead to French and British participation in a subsequent, more permanent organization, they could probably at least start traffic moving. This approach would also not prejudice relations with the U.S.S.R. vis-à-vis the Rhine.

On the basis of his experience of the last few months, Mr. Rainey said that it is felt in Austria that today there is no further practical possibility of quadripartite action on Danube matters. The agreement of January 22, referred to in the preceding paragraph is a dead issue. He reported, however, that the Soviet representatives in Vienna had approached the U.S. representatives to discuss means of getting traffic on the river moving again. Since at the moment the Americans and the Russians are in physical possession of all the Danube facilities it was thought that such discussion might be fruitful if it were [Page 256] confined to direct operating arrangements and if care were taken not to prejudice the form of any eventual international commission. As a condition to any U.S. agreement with the Russians Mr. Rainey added, periodic mutual inspection on any part of the river would have to be permitted and guarantees against seizure would be required.

The French representatives, especially after Mr. Rainey had described the attitude prevailing in Austria concerning the January 22 agreement, were in accord that such discussions today provided the best opening. It would of course be desirable if any resultant agreement could include provisions for the freedom of navigation. Moreover, if the United States-Russian conversations should prove fruitful, French and British representatives might also seek to participate in any arrangements which are made in order to get their barges into movement again.

There followed a brief discussion of other factors which may have a bearing on French and British participation on a future Danube commission. It was recognized that the principle of riparian participation would not include the French and British on the basis of their zones of occupation. M. Alphand thought, however, that there was considerable validity to an argument that stressed the importance of the Danube to the French and British zones, the transportation networks of which are almost entirely tributary to the Danube route. While attaching only moderate importance to the point, M. Alphand also mentioned the established pre-war rights of the French and British to participate in control of the Danube.

At the present time by far the largest part of the lower Danube fleets is in Russian hands either directly, through Russian participation in the Rumanian and Hungarian navigation companies or through Russian influence in Yugoslavia. It appears to be the intention of the U.S.S.R. to secure a virtual monopoly of Danube navigation and to this end they have recently approached the Austrian Government. The Austrian DDSG which handled 35 percent of the Danube traffic before the war has been the subject of Inter-Allied discussions recently but any effort to reconstitute the company even on a basis of handling only Austrian traffic has been impeded by the attitude of the Czechoslovaks and Yugoslavs. These countries appear to associate the company with the Hapsburg period of Danubian domination. It was M. Lebel’s feeling that it would be most desirable if the company could be fully reconstituted, carrying more than just the Austrian traffic, and thereby providing Austria with some vitally needed foreign exchange.

In connection with long-run developments M. Lebel mentioned the “Hitler” Danube–Rhine canal which, according to his information, could be completed within three years’ time and would be able [Page 257] to carry barges up to a thousand tons. The implications of this information, he thought, might have some influence on the Russian attitude about the use of the lower Danube. It was also suggested that in their position on the Straits the British have a bargaining point which might assist in changing the present Russian Danube policy.

In conclusion there was agreement that no general overall agreement on the Danube regime should be sought at the moment. Instead it appeared best to proceed step by step, starting with the prospective U.S.–Russian discussions which look toward some purely operating arrangements. As witnessed by the letter to the Secretariat of the Allied Commission from the Austrian Minister of Transport, it is vital to the Austrian economy at the present time that free movement on the river be resumed, if only within Austria itself.

  1. Copy transmitted to the Department in despatch 5121, May 14, 1946, from Paris; received May 28.
  2. See telegram 480, March 16, to Moscow, p. 230.