Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Office of European Affairs (Matthews)

top secret
Participants: Mr. Bevin
Mr. Mason
Secretary Byrnes
Mr. Matthews

Mr. Bevin said that as he had explained the other day, he did not feel he could go along with the suggestions contained in Mr. Byrnes’ recent letter concerning bases. He said there was some anxiety, for instance, that if the British got in trouble they would not be able to use Canton Island as a base, and that Christmas Island had certain importance to the British from the point of view of civil aviation. Above all, he said he was anxious to have his people sit down with us and adjust all our pending questions on a broad plane and to know exactly what our needs in the Pacific are. He said it was not quite clear, for instance, in the case of New Zealand and Australian possessions just where the cost of maintaining the bases would fall. In his search for a formula over the weekend and his discussions with the Dominion Prime Ministers, Mr. Bevin had worked out the attached suggested paper.46 On learning, however, this morning that it was not satisfactory to the United States, and that we were afraid of the effect of publication, he had immediately telephoned London to prevent this. He mentioned the fact that some press publicity had already been given within the last few days to the base question at London. Mr. Byrnes said that he had seen one newspaper article.

Mr. Byrnes said that we felt it would set an unfortunate precedent for Soviet emulation if we set up some regional defense arrangement, as suggested in the British paper. In the first place, we saw no [Page 39]possible enemy in the Southwest Pacific unless one wanted to consider Siam, and that we had no defense plans for that area. Should some enemy appear at some later date in that area, presumably the Military Committee of the United Nations would make plans when the occasion arose. We feel that the defense problem in the Pacific arises much farther north, largely in the Japanese Mandated Islands, the Bonins and the Ryukyus.

Mr. Byrnes continued that as for his letter of April 19 he had written it solely because of the present state of the British loan negotiations. For instance, two Senators had already offered amendments to the British loan suggestion that British bases be granted the United States. He felt that it would be easier to vote down these amendments in the Senate if he could give Senator Barkley47 some general statement that the British had agreed to some of our base requirements, and there would consequently be no excuse for injecting this issue into the loan discussion. When, however, Mr. Byrnes found that Mr. Bevin was having trouble with his Dominions on this question, he was quite willing to drop the whole matter until a later date when our two countries could sit down and discuss it.

As to Manus, which is the only Australian territory of interest to us, what we desire is purely a naval station for minor ship repairs and the use of an air field. We would be willing to pay our share to keep up a small part of the existing base, on which we have expended over $160,000,000. As for the area in general, our admirals, Mr. Byrnes said, have revised their opinion during the past six months and no longer see any likelihood of Japan’s coming back as the future enemy.

Mr. Bevin then read Mr. Byrnes’ letter of April 19 again, and there followed some discussion of the three islands of Canton, Christmas and Funafuti. Mr. Byrnes explained that since the title is disputed between our two countries for each of these islands, he thought it would be a useful gesture for Great Britain to cede its claims during this debate on the British loan. All we need the islands for is to have alternate air fields and meteorological stations since the islands are situated in the trade-wind belt. Mr. Mason, in reply to inquiries from Mr. Bevin, said that the Dominions felt they should be consulted with regard to any arrangements concerning these islands, and that with respect to Christmas Island, the British had certain plans to transfer some inhabitants from other more crowded islands. Mr. Bevin finally, however, instructed Mr. Mason to consult Mr. Attlee immediately on the following basis: The British cede title to Canton and Christmas Islands to the United States, the United [Page 40]States to bear the upkeep of such fields as might be needed, and the British to be granted joint civil and military transit rights. A reverse arrangement should be made with regard to Funafuti, title resting with the British, and the United States given joint military and civil transit rights.

Mr. Bevin then spoke of Tarawa and of the suggestion which Lord Halifax had made to him some months ago that, as a gesture and for sentimental reasons, in view of the large loss of life which the Americans had suffered in taking the island, it be ceded outright to the United States. He said that his intended gesture had run into obstacles in the Dominion and Colonial offices, but that he proposed to renew his efforts. Mr. Mason mentioned some alternate thought that the atoll remain British, but that the cemetery area be ceded to us as a memorial. Mr. Bevin rejected this idea and instructed Mr. Mason to endeavor to obtain Mr. Attlee’s consent this evening or tomorrow to his offering to cede Tarawa to the United States. He said that he hoped that the British would be given civil and military landing rights on any air fields in the atoll. Mr. Byrnes said he thought such a gesture would be much appreciated and highly opportune.

[Here follows discussion of disposition of a large number of Polish nationals then stationed in Italy.]

  1. No copy of suggested paper was found attached to this copy of memorandum, but apparently the paper referred to is same as the formula of April 26, supra.
  2. Alben W. Barkley, Senator from Kentucky.