Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Shipping Division, Office of Transport and Communications (Tuthill)1



Reply to the USSR note of March 15, 1948 (Tab A) in which the “Soviet government proposes that a conference be called for the drawing up of a new convention on a system of navigation on the Danube within the earliest possible date, in any event not later than April or May of this year in the city of Belgrade”.

[Page 597]


Molotov2 opposed for some time any action by the Council of Foreign Ministers for the holding of a Danube conference and the “free and open navigation” provisions of the Satellite Treaties. (See below.) However, after lengthy negotiations and the return of all Yugoslavian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Czechoslovakian barges from the United States controlled portion of the Danube, the Soviet agreed to the Council of Foreign Ministers’ resolution of December 6, 1946, “to call within six months of the coming into force of the Peace Treaties of Rumania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, a conference (Tab B) to work out a new convention regarding the regime of navigation of the Danube”.

Although recognizing the inadvisability of an immediate conference, the Department believed that the matter should be raised prior to expiration of the six months’ period—March 15—in order to maintain the validity of the Council of Foreign Ministers’ agreement and to continue United States interest in freedom of navigation on the Danube in particular and the area in general. Accordingly, on February 27, notes were dispatched to the USSR, UK, and France (Tab C) calling attention to the Council of Foreign Ministers’ resolution and recommending “since the question of a Treaty with Austria has not yet been settled” that the period for calling the conference be extended until the end of 1948.

The British and French agreed to extend the period but reserved the right to discuss the matter further in case the USSR recommended that the conference be called earlier. The Soviet rejected the United States’ view that the failure to settle the Austrian Treaty represented an adequate basis for extending the period and made the above-quoted proposal that a conference be called in April or May in Belgrade.

On March 18, the Department circulated to each of the three governments the notes of the other two3 and stated that its comments on all the notes would follow shortly.

United States Objectives Concerning the Danube

a. free and open navigation

The Satellite Treaties include the following provision:4

“Navigation on the Danube shall be free and open for the nationals, vessels of commerce and goods of all states on a footing of equality [Page 598] in regard to port and navigation charges and conditions for merchant shipping. The foregoing shall not apply to traffic between ports of the same state.”

In practice, the Danube is closed except to shipping of the Soviet and its satellites from the Black Sea to Linz in Austria. The riparian states in that area have indicated by public statements and bilateral agreements that they have every intention to ignore the provisions of the Satellite Treaties and to limit control and operation on the Danube to the riparian states. The only part under western control is the short distance from Linz to the German border and that part of the Danube in Germany.5

It is the United States’ intention to continue to press for “free and open” navigation of the Danube although it is most unlikely that any broad progress along this line can be achieved in the near future or that an early convention for a Danube Commission could be drawn up implementing that principle. This principle must remain however an absolute condition for United States’ participation in a conference or on a commission that might be established.

b. use of river in trade between eastern and western europe

The United States supports moves and has made specific proposals to the USSR designed to increase traffic on the River between the United States and Soviet-controlled areas. Such traffic would have to be on a strict reciprocal basis allowing as many United States-controlled vessels to operate east of Linz as Soviet-controlled vessels west of Linz. Negotiations of the last two years have been carried on, mostly in Vienna. To date, there has been no success but the United States is always prepared to discuss the matter on a practical basis.

One advantage of a Danube conference would be that a meeting of shipping interests on the Danube might lay the groundwork for reciprocal movements on the River. However, this prospect should not be over-emphasized in terms of the proposed Danube conference because the conference would be called to draw up a convention for a regime of navigation and not to arrange bilateral navigation agreements.

British and French Positions

The British and French both agreed with the United States’ suggestion to extend the period for calling the conference until the end of 1948.

The British Government proposes to send a note to the three governments within the next few days providing the following:

To agree to participate with the USSR, French and United States Governments to call the Danube conference in April or May in Belgrade.
To state that the British Government assumes Austria will be allowed to participate because: (a) “the question of a treaty with Austria has been settled by the decision of the Council of Foreign Ministers to pursue the matter”; and (b) draft Austrian treaty includes Danube provision identical with that in the satellite treaties.
To state that “in the event of the Danube conference failing to reach agreed recommendations on a new Danube regime” to reserve British rights under existing Danube instruments.
To assume that recommendations of the Danube conference will be “communicated to the four governments for acceptance.”

The British have been informally advised that while the United States cannot agree to support all the points in the note (especially #4), the United States feels that the dispatch of the note a few days prior to the United States note may be desirable.

The Department has not yet received, despite inquiries, an expression of the prospective French reply to the USSR suggestion.

United States Position


There is little prospect that any real progress could be made at this time at a Danube conference towards achieving the United States objectives in that area. Assuming participation of the Western Powers and not by Austria, the Soviet would control all issues by a 7 to 3 vote, and undoubtedly would use this position for propaganda purposes. The United States would maintain that a conference designed to establish a convention requires unanimous agreement. While this position would have merit and logic, it would be interpreted by the Soviet propagandists as a veto.

Considering the possibility that the United States would not participate in a Soviet-framed conference, there must be constant attention to the possibility of ultimate publication of all the documents and their use as propaganda. In addition, the United States should handle this problem in such a manner as to leave the door open for negotiations with the Soviet under proper conditions. Even though it appears improbable that the Soviet would in fact accept the United States conditions and even though the United States would prefer not to participate in a Danube conference at this time, all of its notes and exchanges of views with the Soviet should express the desirability of holding a conference at an agreed time and place and under certain stipulated conditions.


The U.S. reply to the Soviet should suggest or assume conditions relating to the conference concerning: 1) Austrian participation and 2) explicit recognition of the “free and open navigation” principle. These matters should be discussed either in exchange of notes and/or at a meeting of representatives. The United States should recommend [Page 600] a meeting of representatives in Washington and, in any event, should not participate in any conference without agreement on these matters. At the meeting of representatives the U.S. would insist that the invitation to Yugoslavia include an assumption that Yugoslavia will furnish adequate facilities for press and radio and absence of censorship on conference reporting.

During the meetings of representatives prior to the conference, the U.S. should insist upon discussion of the above points before considering the British contention that decisions of the conference should be referred back to the four governments for ratification. The British position, which accepts the thesis of dominance by the four big powers, should be supported only in the event that the Soviet position on the U.S. conditions indicates that no substantial progress towards acceptance of U.S. conditions is possible.

Even in the event that the U.S. conditions are met, the U.S. would insist upon an explicit recognition in the invitation or agenda to the effect that recommendation of the conference must be agreed by all participating governments, thus, in effect, requiring unanimity.

At the time of negotiations with the Soviet, the U.S. can bring up the question of German participation—if this should seem appropriate.

The U.S. will not insist upon Austrian participation if progress is made upon its other conditions. However, it should keep proposing Austrian participation and be prepared to give way only if real progress is made upon the other conditions. In effect, three conditions would remain if Austrian participation is dropped. These would be (1) recognition of free and open navigation principle, (2) adequate press and radio facilities and [no?] censorship, and (3) agreement that all governments must ratify decisions before they become effective.


It appears unlikely that the Soviet will accept the U.S. conditions. If the Soviet does not accept, it presumably will call its own conference anyway. In such case the United States would not participate but would publicize the entire matter and would stress that the Soviet-sponsored conference was not that which [was] envisaged in the resolution of the Council of Foreign Ministers.

If the Soviet should agree to the United States’ conditions, the United States should be prepared to participate despite its probable inability to achieve its objectives. At such a conference the U.S. would have the disadvantage of a minority position and an impotency in achieving its objectives. However, it would be in a position to publicize its policies on the river and for the area and thus to demonstrate its continued interest in Balkan developments. If and when the concept of free and open navigation is either rejected by the Soviet or ignored by the conference or later by the Danube Commission, the United States would disassociate itself from the group or organization.

[Page 601]


That a note be dispatched to the Soviet, U.K. and French Embassies, supporting a conference, in principle, and at the same time making assumptions or conditions which, in effect, would have to be substantially met before the U.S. would participate. The conditions need not be such as to preclude Soviet acceptance although acceptance would be unlikely as implementation of the conditions could serve as the basis for breaking complete Soviet control of the river.
That prior to dispatching of the notes, the matter be discussed further in Washington with the French and British.
That the U.S. note be shown to Senator Vandenberg prior to being dispatched.
  1. This memorandum was directed to the Under Secretary of State Robert A. Lovett, the Assistant Secretary of State for Transportation and Communications Garrison Norton, the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Willard L. Thorp, and the Director of the Office of European Affairs John D. Hickerson.
  2. Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union.
  3. None printed.
  4. The provision became part of the peace treaties of February 17, 1947, with Bulgaria as article 34, with Hungary as article 38, and with Rumania as article 36.
  5. The portion of the Danube river within the United States zone of military occupation extended eastward to the city of Linz.