78. Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Sayre) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Mediation of British Honduras Dispute


We have endeavored to avoid a direct role in the United Kingdom–Guatemala talks on Belize because of our desire to avoid the onus of [Page 193] a settlement which may well be unpopular, particularly in Guatemala, where the weakness of the Government’s claim is in inverse proportion to the emotional appeal of the issue. The possible adverse reaction to direct USG mediation from Mexico, which also has a claim to part of British Honduras, has been another consideration. The British and Guatemalan Governments, however, formally requested direct U.S. Government mediation on July 6 either solely or in conjunction with other Governments to be mutually agreed upon.

On July 24, the Under Secretary approved a proposal that the USG adopt a more responsive attitude by offering to suggest the name of a prominent U.S. private citizen or citizens to serve as mediator(s) (Tab A).2 Apprised of this position informally, Ambassador Bell requested that you review this decision (Tab B—Emb. Guatemala telegram 64).3 He urges direct U.S. Government mediation.

It has been the position of ARA that the U.S. should avoid pursuing a role in which we would be charged in Guatemala with responsibility for the loss of Belize. We have explored the possibility of a tripartite governmental mediation but the Legal Adviser’s Office believes this procedure to be unwieldy and we are inclined to agree. Moreover, under such a procedure we might well have the U.S. representative casting the decisive vote on questions on which the other two mediators were divided and thus reap as much onus as if we had undertaken the mediation by ourselves.

We see advantages in suggesting a prominent American citizen as mediator in a private capacity, although we recognize that, in practice, the distinction between an American acting in a private capacity or in a governmental capacity may not be great. The onus for an unpopular settlement in either case may rest on the USG. Despite this risk, we recognize that an opportunity now exists to settle the long-standing dispute. On balance therefore, we believe that we should respond to the British and Guatemalan requests, in the sense that we are prepared to arrange for a mediation effort by suggesting the names of a prominent American citizen or citizens to serve as the mediator but leaving open the question of the private or governmental character of the mediator. We would be prepared in subsequent discussions with the UK and Guatemala to agree to direct USG mediation if we find this to be necessary to get the mediation underway. EUR and L concur.

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That you authorize a reply to the United Kingdom and Guatemalan Governments’ request which offers to suggest the name of a prominent U.S. citizen or citizens to undertake the mediation.

That you authorize direct mediation by the U.S. Government in the event this is required.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 32–1 GUAT–UK. Confidential. Drafted by Sowash on August 5 and cleared by Leddy and Meeker. A notation on the memorandum indicates that Rusk saw it.
  2. Document 76.
  3. Document 77.
  4. Although the memorandum does not record the decision, the Secretary evidently approved both recommendations. Rusk authorized the delivery of diplomatic notes in Guatemala and London indicating his “readiness to propose the name of a prominent and distinguished citizen or citizens of the United States to undertake the mediation of this dispute.” (Telegram 75 to Guatemala City and London, August 18; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 32–1 GUAT–UK) The Department subsequently conceded the issue of direct mediation by appointing Bethuel M. Webster, a New York City lawyer and former member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, as mediator with ambassadorial rank. (Telegram 174 to Guatemala City, October 20; ibid.)