286. Instruction From the Secretary of State to All Diplomatic Missions 1



  • International Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Law of the Sea, March 1958

The United Nations General Assembly adopted on February 21, 1957, at its 11th Session a Resolution providing for the calling in early March 1958, of an “International Conference of Plenipotentiaries” to examine the law of the sea. The Resolution was sponsored by the United States and 22 other countries. A copy of the Resolution is enclosed (Enclosure 1). A brief account of the discussions at the Assembly is also enclosed (Enclosure 2).2

The United States attaches great importance to this Conference. It will be concerned with highly difficult and controversial issues in which the United States has a vital interest, including the limits of [Page 571] the territorial sea, freedom of the high seas, international fisheries, and rights over the continental shelf. Under the terms of the General Assembly Resolution the Conference is to examine the law of the sea “taking account not only of the legal but also of the technical, biological, economic, and political aspects of the problem… .”3 The Secretary General of the United Nations has already sent invitations to the Conference to 88 countries.

The Department and the various other interested Departments of the Government are engaged in intensive preparations for the Conference. An important aspect of the preparations will involve pre-Conference discussions with other governments. The object of these discussions will be to obtain the views of other governments and, particularly, to promote the widest possible understanding and acceptance of the United States position. The Department expects to request the Missions in the countries invited to the Conference to take appropriate action in this respect as the various aspects of the United States position are developed.

During the intervening period, the Department would be interested in receiving from the field, on a continuing basis, any information available to the Missions concerning developments in connection with the Conference. Such reports should be helpful in the present stage of United States preparations and in the formulation in due course of instructions to the Missions.

The following non-exclusive check list of items is suggested for the Missions’ particular attention:

Indications that the countries will or will not accept the invitation to attend the Conference;
Indications of the nature and scope of the governments’ preparations for the Conference and of positions to be taken;
Particular interests of the local government;
Indications of any plans to make diplomatic approaches to other governments.
Names, standing, and relative influence of individuals involved in the governments’ preparations;
Local official and private reaction (individual, press, and radio comment).

For Embassies Paris and Rome:

Under the terms of the GA Resolution “all States Members of the United Nations and States Members of the Specialized Agencies” are invited to participate in the Conference. As members of the Universal Postal Union, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City are eligible to participate in the Conference and have been invited to attend.

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For Embassy Moscow:

As members of the United Nations, Albania, Bulgaria, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine have been invited to participate in the Conference.

For Embassies New Delhi and Jidda:

As members of the United Nations, Nepal and Yemen have been invited to participate in the Conference.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 399.731/5–2957. Confidential. Drafted by William Sanders, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State. On June 5, Sanders was simultaneously designated Coordinator of Preparations for the Conference of the Law of the Sea. (Department of State Circular No. 262, June 5; ibid., 399.731/6-557)
  2. Neither enclosure is printed; for text of Resolution 1105 (XI), see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Resolutions Adopted by the General Assembly from 12 November 1956 to 8 March 1957 during its Eleventh Session, p. 54.
  3. Ellipsis in the source text.