Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State2


25. The Problem of the Turkish Straits

i. the problem of the straits

If the question of the Straits is brought before the General Assembly by the Turkish Delegation, the Delegate of the United States should take the position that while the General Assembly or Security Council of the United Nations might discuss the general principles of the problem, the technical aspects should not be considered. As in the Montreux Conference of 1936, when experts worked for six weeks to draw up a new Convention of the Straits, the technical aspects require the consideration of a special international conference of experts.

ii. proposed position of the united states

The Delegate of the United States should indicate that the United States has already proposed a set of principles looking toward settlement of the problem of the Turkish Straits by means of an international conference in 1946, in accordance with the terms of the Montreux Convention. No further initiative need be taken at this time by the United States, although the problem may be raised for discussion by either Great Britain or the Soviet Union at the meeting of the Soviet, British and American Foreign Ministers in December, 1945. However, it is possible that the Turkish Delegation in the General [Page 802] Assembly or the Security Council may raise the larger and broader political question of its relations with the Soviet Union by declaring that a threat to the security of Turkey exists in the Soviet demands upon Turkey. In this event, the Delegate of the United States should urge settlement through friendly negotiations within the framework of the United Nations, under Articles 10 and 11 of the Charter.


Implications for the United Nations Organization

Nevertheless, in view of the United States principles for revision of the Montreux Convention, and of the character of the demands of the Soviet Government for revision of the regime of the Straits and for territorial adjustments in Kars and Ardahan, as well as the Soviet desire for a pro-Soviet orientation of Turkey, the United States may have to take a position in the General Assembly and Security Council to prevent the development of a threat to peace in Turkish-Soviet relations. Indeed, the set of issues involved in Turco-Soviet relations might prove to be the first real test of the United Nations Organization. If the Soviet Union persisted to the point of aggressive action against Turkey on some minor pretext, such action would be recognized as aggression, the United Nations would be entirely discredited if it took no action looking toward settlement, and chaos would result.

The Soviet Demands

The Montreux Convention (1936), which re-established Turkish control over the Straits, governs the use of these waters. On March 19, 1945 the Soviet Government denounced its treaty of neutrality and nonaggression with Turkey as out-of-date and unsuited to present-day conditions and indicated the necessity for a new political treaty.3 In response to Turkish requests, the Soviet Government indicated, in June 1945, that it was willing to negotiate a new treaty with Turkey, provided certain prerequisites were fulfilled: 1) Revision of the Soviet-Turkish frontier in the region of Kars and Ardahan; 2) Revision of the Montreux Convention in such a way as to give “real” guarantees to the Soviet Union, with occupation of bases and possible joint control of the Straits in war time. The Turkish Government stated Turkey’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be violated by any of these concessions to the U.S.S.R. and consequently the Soviet points offered no basis for discussion.4

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The Interest of the United States

The United States has a basic interest in the preservation of commercial freedom in the Turkish Straits, which the Montreux Convention, to which the United States was not a party, guaranteed. Similarly there is every indication at present that the Soviet Union and other Black Sea powers desire to preserve this principle. The United States also has a general interest in seeing that any new regime of the Straits fits within the framework of the United Nations, although in this regard there are definite implications affecting the status of the Panama Canal and similar waterways of international concern. The United States has an interest in the continuance of a genuinely independent Turkey, friendly to the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Moreover, the United States desires that any treaty arrangements between Turkey and the Soviet Union should accord with the principles, purposes and provisions of the United Nations.

The United States Proposals November 2, 19455

In accordance with the decision at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union agreed that the Montreux Convention should be revised. The United States presented the Turkish Government, on November 2, 1945, a note embodying its suggestions for revision, including the calling of a Conference on the Straits in 1946. The United States also stated that, if invited, it would be willing to send representatives to such a Conference. As a basis for an equitable solution of the question of the Straits the following principles were proposed:

The Straits to be opened to the commercial vessels of all nations at all times;
The Straits to be opened to the transit of the warships of the Black Sea powers at all times;
Except for an agreed limited tonnage in times of peace, passage through the Straits to be denied to the warships of non-Black Sea powers at all times except with the specific consent of the Black Sea powers, or except when acting under the authority of the United Nations;
Certain changes to modernize the Montreux Convention, such as the substitution of the United Nations Organization for the League of Nations.

While the Turkish Government has welcomed American interest in the problem of the Straits, along with that of Great Britain, it has been inclined to scrutinize the American proposals very closely. Although willing to see the Montreux Convention revised, the Turkish [Page 804] Government does not want to become a Soviet satellite, and in rejecting the other Soviet demands as contrary to Turkish independence, has turned to Great Britain and the United States for protection under the principles of the United Nations. The British Government has questioned the idea of excluding the passage of non-Black Sea warships into the Black Sea, but is otherwise favorably inclined toward the American proposals. The Soviet Government has expressed the view informally that the American proposals do not essentially change the Montreux Convention and declared that it must have something more than “paper” guarantees in the region of the Straits. It is probably more interested in closing off the last beach-head of the Western World in this region through the conclusion of a treaty with Turkey which would bring that country into line with other states in the “Soviet security zone”. Once this is done it would offer a framework into which the USSR could fit control of the Straits.

  1. Paper prepared for the U. S. delegation at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in London. The drafting officer was Harry N. Howard of the Division of International Organization Affairs.
  2. See telegram 835, March 21, 1945, from Moscow, Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. viii, p. 1219.
  3. See telegram 817, June 18, 1945, 3 p.m., from Ankara, Foreign Relations, The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), 1945, vol. i, p. 1020.
  4. Based on telegram 1049, October 30, 1945, 3 p.m., to Ankara, Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. viii, p. 1265.