865.30/12–1748: Circular telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to Certain Diplomatic Missions 1


Turk Emb here has confirmed reports that Turk Govt’s present intention is to invoke Montreux Convention2 (Arts 10, 11 and 14) to bar passage thru Straits of 23,000-ton battleship flying Italian flag (Rome’s 4679 Dec 17,3 Ankara’s 888 Dec 18,4 Moscow’s 3027 Dec 27).5 Therefore if Turkey should notify signatories that such passage contravenes [Page 990] Convention, Italians would presumably inform 4-power naval Commission they unable carry out Commission’s arrangements for delivery Cesare to USSR at Odessa. Dept understands Turk desire adhere strictly and literally to terms of Convention. Furthermore considers highly undesirable for many reasons summoning of conference and bringing matter to vote of high contracting parties under Art 29, as suggested in Rome’s 4679.

Brit FonMin has instructed Emb here that although Turkey’s legal position is technically unassailable, it would be most unfortunate to upset at this stage arrangements which have at last been made for delivery of ships to Russia. Brit believe also (in line with Moscow’s 8027) that Turks would be well advised to find some way around the legal difficulty in order to avoid presenting Soviets with opportunity to reopen whole question Montreux Convention in acute form.6

Brit therefore propose recommending following procedure to Turks: Since Turks under Art 24 are required notify signatory powers when they themselves are notified of intended passage of warships thru Straits, they could at same time point out passage Giulio Cesare technically in conflict with provisions of Convention, but since all ships could have transited legally under Soviet flag, since they are already Soviet property, and since they will be transferred to USSR immediately upon arrival Odessa (and could indeed have been transferred before passage Straits), there is clearly no substantive violation Convention involved. Turks could add that in these circumstances they propose raising no objection unless other signatories see fit to do so by a given date.

Dept has agreed this procedure and Brit Amb Ankara will be instructed act in conformity therewith. For Ankara only: If you and your Brit colleague believe joint action desirable, you are authorized concert with him in urging Turks adopt this course of action.7

  1. Ankara, Rome, Moscow, and London.
  2. Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, signed at Montreux, July 20, 1936. For text see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clxxiii, p. 213.
  3. See footnote 2, above.
  4. In this telegram, not printed, Ambassador Wadsworth reported having learned that the Italian Ambassador (Renato Prunas) had suggested that the Giulio Cesare and the two Italian submarines fly the Italian commercial flag in passing through the Straits. Carim, Secretary General of the Turkish Foreign Office, had termed this a simple subterfuge which Turkey could not accept (865.34/12–1848)
  5. In this telegram, not printed, Kohler reported that the Italian Ambassador had told him of having been informed that the Turks intended to oppose the passage of “Italian reparations naval vessels, particularly battleships” through the Straits (865.30/12–2748).
  6. For Soviet Russia’s efforts to bring: about a revision of the Montreux Convention following the end of World War II, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. vii, pp. 801899.
  7. In telegram 3120 of December 29, 1948 to Rome (repeated as 605 to Ankara, 1427 to Moscow, 4797 to London) not printed, the Department instructed Dunn to suggest to the Italian Foreign Office that it postpone formal notification to Turkey of the proposed passage of the battleship Cesare through the Straits until satisfactory arrangements were reached with Turkey for such passage (865.30/12–2948).

    On December 30, 1948 in telegram 606 to Ankara, not printed, the Department advised that the day before (i.e. December 29) the Turkish Embassy had informed the Department that the Turkish Government had already received formal notification from Italy and from the U.S.S.R. of the proposed passage of the warships under the Italian merchant flag and that such a subterfuge was not possible under the (Montreux) Convention. The Department’s instruction of December 28, however, still stood. (865.30/12–3048)

    In telegram 8 of January 5, 1949, not printed, Wadsworth reported from Ankara that he had presented an appropriate aide-mémoire to the Turkish Foreign Office. The Turks, he stated, did not oppose passage of these ships but their flying the Italian flag; they seemed in general to be rather receptive to the proposal. (865.30/1–549)