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740.0011 European War 1939/8473 : Telegram The Ambassador in Turkey (MacMurray) to the Secretary of State

ANKARA, February 18, 1941–4 p. m.

[Received February 19–6:05 a. m.] 34. (1) Upon my presenting to the Prime Minister the text of the message contained in your telegram No. 14, February 14, 7 p. m., he asked me to convey to the President in his own name and that of his Government his cordial appreciation of that communication. Fixing upon the concluding reference to nations threatened with aggression he said that that was the case of Turkey and that he welcomed the opportunity to make quite clear the position of the Turkish Government: from the very first it had wholeheartedly committed itself to the purposes and ideals with which both Great Britain and the United States are identified; it had not in any way changed from that viewpoint which it would support to the end even if compelled to fight; but that it naturally hoped that circumstances would permit its being spared actual participation in the war and must furthermore take account of its own limitations in case such participation were forced upon it and must consider in the light of actual developments what action on its part would best serve the common cause; the lack of adequate military equipment for the time being excluded the possibility of any but strictly defensive action; for such defense against possible attack it was keeping its forces at full strength and was spending (apart from the British and French credits) to an extent that caused actual privation to its people. He asked whether Turkey might look forward to receiving materials from the United States and I replied that in view of the terms of the message I thought that not impossible.

(2) He asked whether there prevailed in the United States any idea that the Turkish Government was wavering in its attitude. I said I did not believe there was any such feeling in official quarters but that there frankly was evidence that such an idea existed in some minds and that I understood an American broadcast had interpreted yesterday's joint declaration with Bulgaria as indicating that Turkey would stand aloof regardless of what German action in Bulgaria might be. The Prime Minister at once controverted that interpretation explaining that the actual effect of the declaration was to bind Bulgaria to unconditional neutrality towards Turkey, whereas the latter's obligations to Great Britain in any eventual contingencies were safeguarded. I asked whether obligations under the Balkan Entente were also contemplated and he answered in the negative and explained that the Entente was no longer of any immediate practical concern since the submergence of Rumania.

(3) When I asked what would be Turkey's attitude in the event of an untoward development of German activities in Bulgaria short of an immediate threat to the Turkish frontier he said that that must depend upon the circumstances that developed and that he could not in advance be any more categorical than to say that his Government would within the limits of its possibilities endeavor loyally to meet its obligations and responsibilities. Repeated to Sofia.


767.74/118 Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Near

Eastern Affairs (Murray)


[WASHINGTON,] February 20, 1941. The Turkish Ambassador 11 called on me by appointment yesterday and left the attached official text,12 in French translation, of the lately negotiated Turco-Bulgarian nonaggression agreement. The Ambassador confirmed my understanding that the present agreement is in fact a reaffirmation of the substance of an earlier one negotiated as long ago as 1925.13 He added that he had in fact been instrumental in the negotiation of the earlier agreement.

Mr. Ertegün said he was somewhat disturbed by American press reaction to this agreement since it seemed to impute rather sinister designs to Turkey which he felt sure were not justified. He added that while he was not officially informed as to the circumstances surrounding the present agreement, he was confident there were compelling reasons which motivated the agreement at this time. Mr. Ertegün went on to say that a critical situation has existed for some time along the Turco-Bulgarian frontier where there had been large concentrations of troops on each side. The present agreement would undoubtedly result in the withdrawal of the troops on both sides, and Turkey was now assured that even if she should be attacked by Germany, Bulgaria would not participate in the attack.

Mr. Ertegün went on to say that Turkey was not prepared to launch an offensive-defensive action in order to prevent the entry of German troops into Bulgaria. If she had endeavored to take such action she would have inevitably come into immediate conflict with Germany outside Turkish territory and would have run the risk of being attacked simultaneously by Soviet Russia. Such a development could not possibly have been in the best interest of Great Britain, who is certainly not in a position to assist Turkey adequately in any such crisis. Turkey is prepared and determined to stand fast at the Dardanelles in order to block Germany's passage into Asia. If Turkey meanwhile runs the risk of defeat in endeavoring to block German passage into Bulgaria, the chief bastion of British defense in that area might collapse and the whole of the Near East and Asia would be at Germany's feet.

11 Mehmet Münir Ertegün.
12 Not attached to file copy of memorandum.

** Signed at Ankara, October 18, 1925, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. LIV, p. 125.

As far as Bulgaria is concerned, the Ambassador said he had great sympathy for her in her present dilemma and added that if he were a Bulgarian he would pursue no other course. Bulgaria had been defeated, mutilated and disarmed in the first World War and had never been allowed to equip herself properly for defense even against countries far less powerful than Germany. It was a great misfortune, in his opinion, that the various Balkan countries which had seized Bulgarian territory after the World War had consistently refused to compensate Bulgaria sufficiently in order to induce her to join the Balkan Entente. The Balkan Entente as it was finally set up without Bulgaria was in fact a sort of "gang-up” against that little country to prevent its regaining any of its lost territory. If Bulgaria could have been brought into the Entente, a fairly impressive bloc of Balkan countries determined to stand on their own feet and to exclude the pressure and intrigues of the Great Powers could have come into being and the present developments might have been avoided. But with Bulgaria left dissatisfied and receiving her first encouragement from the Germans when the Dobrudja was returned to Bulgaria by Rumania under German pressure, the present developments became inevitable.

The Ambassador closed his conversation with an expression of his earnest hope that this war could be terminated before it was too late to prevent a world disaster. With a smile, he said he realized such talk was regarded in this country as “Fifth Columnist”, but he was nevertheless persuaded that unless some early settlement could be reached all of Europe, including his own country, would sink into a chaos like that of the Dark Ages and that we would be unable to prevent the Bolshevization of the entire Continent of Europe. I may say that the Ambassador has on several occasions taken this line and he seems to be obsessed with the idea that the only hope for the world is for the United States to announce its views as to a just settlement and, if necessary, impose it. In reply to my observation that a peace settlement at this juncture would necessarily be a Hitler peace, he stated that in his opinion any settlement would have to take into account that some of England's claims are "unjust” and some of Germany's are "just.” The problem, said the Ambassador, was to do justice to all.

740.0011 European War 1939/8558 : Telegram

The Ambassador in Turkey (MacMurray) to the Secretary of State

ANKARA, February 21, 1941–2 p. m.

[Received February 22—7:15 p. m.] 37. In response to my inquiries the Secretary General of the Foreign Office 14 yesterday gave me his views as to the significance of and bearing of the joint declaration with Bulgaria in the elaboration of which he had had a principal part. He recalled that this country had long been desirous of a better understanding with Bulgaria. He then told me that last November Sobolev, Secretary General of the Soviet Foreign Office, had visited Sofia on a mysterious errand which the Turkish Government learned was a proposal to enter into a pact of mutual assistance directed professedly against Turkeya proposal which there was even some reason to believe had been gilded with an offer to assure to Bulgaria a portion of Turkish Thrace. The Turks had taxed Molotoff 15 with making this proposition in violation of the Russo-Turkish agreement of 1929 16 and he had protested that the matter had gone no further than mere soundings of the Bulgarian reaction to the possibility of danger not from Turkey herself, but from some combination (scilicet with the British) in that direction. Although the Bulgarians had rejected these Soviet overtures this incident had given the Turkish Government occasion for a new impetus in the effort to establish a greater confidence in the relations with Bulgaria—an effort strongly encouraged by the British who hoped it might develop as basis for mutual support among the Balkan States not already overrun by Germany. The Turkish Government had therefore initiated and carried on in constant consultation with the British negotiations for some sort of an understanding. It had proposed at first to give this the form of a solemn reaffirmation of the intention of each country to maintain its independence and neutrality along the lines of the joint declaration of January 13, 1940 (my despatch No. 1346, January 30 (1940] 17); but the Bulgarians had refused this as being under present circumstances too obviously and provocatively directed against Germany. The Turks had finally proposed that a new declaration might be built upon the basis of the existing treaty of amity of 1925 (see High Commissioner's despatch No. 1919, May 29, 1926 17) amplified by a statement that the policy of both Governments was to abstain from any aggression and qualified by a reservation as to the existing commitments of each of the parties.



14 Numan Menemencioglu. * V. M. Molotov, People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union.

Signed at Ankara, December 17, 1929, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. CLVII, p. 361.

Not printed.


They had presented this formula as a summing up of their position but with really no expectation that it would prove acceptable in view of the course of the negotiations; and they had been astonished accordingly when on the 15th of this month the Bulgarians proposed signing promptly a declaration on that.

2. Numan Bey was frank to admit that the declaration fell short of what could have been desired since it had been necessary to work with a Government which is not sure of the support of its own people and which is distracted by German pressures and by Russian intrigues. But he maintained it was at least moderately helpful to the situation and expressed disappointment and even resentment that in both Great Britain and the United States there seemed to be a tendency to adopt the interpretation promulgated by German propaganda that the purpose and effect of the declaration is to give assurance that Turkey has disinterested herself in whatever may happen elsewhere in the Balkans and thus given the Germans a green light to go through Bulgaria against Greece. He maintained that the reference to both parties abstaining from aggression meant, and was fully and explicitly understood by the negotiators on both sides to mean, aggression in any quarter and specifically aggression against Greece; and that similarly it was understood that the word aggression covered assistance to an aggressor and specifically a consent to Germany's using Bulgarian territory as a base of invasion. He therefore considered that the declaration obligates Bulgaria not to attack or permit its territory to be used for the purpose of an attack on Greece (although he conceded that Bulgaria may well find it politically and militarily impossible to make any effective resistance or obstruction to German action).

He furthermore pointed out that the reservation as to existing obligations is in effect unilateral since Bulgaria has no such engagements whereas Turkey has thereby maintained her freedom of action with regard to her commitments to Great Britain, the Balkan Entente and Greece: the reservation may therefore be construed as a warning by Turkey that she is prepared to live up to those obligations in case Bulgaria should so act as to bring them into question. As to obligations under the Balkan Entente Numan gave a statement perhaps more professional than that of the Prime Minister as reported in my No. 34 of February 18, 5 [4] p. m.: he said that although of no practical present utility since Rumania's defection it is nevertheless still juridically in force and regarded by Turkey as binding and susceptible of being appealed to by any of the parties who may deem such an appeal useful in their own interest.

3. He furthermore said that his Government had expressly informed both the Bulgarian Minister and the German Ambassador

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