The Minister in Iceland ( Butrick ) to the Director of the Office of European Affairs ( Hickerson )


Dear Mr. Hickerson: The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland, Mr. Bjarni Benediktsson, called me to his office late today to make arrangements for beginning the discussions leading to a settlement of numerous outstanding matters growing out of the Agreement of October 7, 1946,1 in regard to the Keflavik Airport. These matters were discussed by me with representatives of the State and National Defense Departments during my recent period of consultation in the Department. We will begin the informal discussions next week and hope to have all matters decided before the Althing meets early in October.

I brought up with the Minister the question of Communist activities in Reykjavik in an endeavor to ascertain whether the Government or the coalition parties forming it had any definite plans to combat a Communist coup d’état. The Foreign Minister discussed this in some detail, the sum and substance being that frequent discussions had been held and certain plans had been made, but that no effective counter measures had been devised.

The question of Keflavik then came up, and there was a lengthy discussion in which I participated mostly by listening. The essence of it is this: That the Icelandic party, consisting of Minister Thor Thors, the then Minister of Justice and Social Affairs, Finnur Jonsson, and Mr. Benediktsson, then Mayor of Reykjavik, which attended the meal at the Blair–Lee House in 1946, considered the discussion an informal one and did not at that time report it to their Government. The Foreign Minister stated that not only the Communists but many other Icelanders [Page 721] believe that Iceland would be better off without the Airport; that they would be safer from attack, which the airfield invites, and would still enjoy the protection of the British and American fleets. However that might be, he added, the fact is that the Airport exists. However, its use as a military base in case of war is not covered by the Agreement and would require negotiations with the Icelandic Government. I stated that if war were to break out there probably would be no time for negotiation, and it might result in a race to see who arrived at the Airport first. He said that he had given this matter considerable thought, and he felt that in time of crisis the United States would find it convenient to have sufficient planes and even soldiers lay over at Keflavik, to make certain that it could fulfill its obligations to maintain control agencies in Germany (paragraph 4 of Agreement). He also added that he did not believe the United States could countenance a regime in Iceland which came into power by force and would be a menace to the Airport in carrying out the obligations above mentioned. The Foreign Minister stated that he was glad I had brought up this subject and that, in fact, he had on several occasions been at the point of bringing it up himself. I replied with laughter that I had not brought up the subject, and that I was under the impression that he had brought it up. He laughed and replied, “Well, let us say ‘it came up in the conversation.’”

I made no effort to press the Minister for details, but in view of the fact that he had for some time contemplated discussing this subject, I must conclude that it represents the opinion of his Government.

The tentative agenda for the discussions regarding the matters to be solved in connection with the operation of the Airport Agreement is attached.2 Mr. Cunningham3 is familiar with our Washington discussions. I intend to adhere to the agenda. However, I would appreciate learning from you whether you desire, in the light of the information contained in this letter, that other matters should be brought into the discussions; also, whether you wish to formalize Mr. Benediktsson’s statements either by confirming them here or through the Icelandic Minister in Washington. I am of the opinion that we should let the matter rest, except as may be necessary for the Department to alert the armed forces and make preparations for the “negotiations”, if necessity requires them.

Sincerely yours,

Richard Butrick
  1. Agreement between the United States and Iceland respecting the termination of the defense agreement of July 1, 1941, and provision for the interim use of Keflavik airport. For text of Agreement, effected by exchange of notes signed at Reykjavik October 7, 1946, see Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series No. 1566, or 61 Stat, (pt 3) 2426.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Harry F. Cunningham, Jr., of the Division of Northern European Affairs.