811F.812 Protection/5–2548

The Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Army ( Royall )

top secret

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I have received your letter of May 25, 1948 requesting this Department’s opinion whether American owned vessels transiting the Panama Canal may be exempted from inspection without violating the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty.

It is the Department’s opinion that the exemption of American owned vessels from inspection would probably result in representations by the British Government on the basis of the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty. In any event, this Department believes that we would encounter serious legal and political difficulties if we applied inspection measures to British and other vessels and exempted American vessels transiting the Panama Canal.1

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The degree, character, and frequency of inspection or search of the vessels of any particular nation, or of any particular vessel, should be subject to the exercise of reasonable discretion by the Department of the Army or the Commander in the Canal Zone. While it might be necessary in practice to make what could be little more than a pro forma search of American vessels, a somewhat more thorough search of British and other friendly vessels and a thorough search of Soviet and satellite vessels, it is the view of this Department in principle that the regulations would have to be the same.2

Sincerely yours,

G. C. Marshall
  1. In a memorandum of June 28, 1948 to Mr. W. Tapley Bennett, Jr., of the Division of Central America and Panama Affairs, not printed, Mr. Bryton Barron, Assistant for Treaty Affairs, Office of the Legal Adviser, indicated that the treaty staff confirmed its approval of the statements made in Secretary Marshall’s letter of June 4, 1948 to Secretary of the Army Royall and cited Article III of the treaty between the United States and Great Britain to facilitate the construction of a ship canal, signed at Washington on November 18, 1901 (Hay–Pauncefote treaty, Department of State Treaty Series No. 401, or 32 Stat. (pt. 2), 1903); Article XVIII of the Isthmian Canal convention with Panama, signed at Washington on November 18, 1903 (Treaty Series No. 431, or 33 Stat. (pt. 2), 2234); and Article X of the general treaty of friendship and cooperation between the United States and Panama, signed at Washington on March 2, 1936 (Treaty Series No. 945, or 53 Stat. (pt. 3), 1807).
  2. In A–499, July 20, 1948 to the Department, not printed, Ambassador Davis reported that the local press had published figures the night before to the effect that only 23 Russian vessels had transited the Canal daring the fiscal year just ended (811F.812 Protection/7–2048).