91 Department of External Affairs to Legation in Washington

Cablegram 390 CANBERRA, 23 March 1944

SECRET

Dominions Office informed us on 14th February [1] that, following earlier suggestions for Anglo-American discussion of Middle Eastern affairs generally including petroleum, a note had been presented to the United Kingdom by the Department of State proposing a discussion of the general subject of petroleum commencing with an examination of problems of the Middle East.

Later the United States proposed that discussions should be at the Ministerial level and named Hull and Ickes [2] as its representatives. United Kingdom has maintained the view that discussions should be preliminary and exploratory at the expert level, that they should cover a world-wide field, and that no question of any transfer of any existing rights or properties in oil should be discussed at this stage. Subsequently an announcement regarding the talks was made in Washington on the 8th March.

2. In view of these developments the United Kingdom is for the moment suspending action on projected Middle East political discussions but recognises difficulty of disassociating political matters from the projected conversations on oil.

3. During February we were also informed that United States and United Kingdom representatives would discuss oil supply position of United Nations for 1944/1945 in London early in March and, in the belief that Australian interests in the talks would be limited to procurement matters, it was arranged for Arnott to act as observer (see telegram 1503 of 24th February to Macgregor [3]).

Later information suggests that scope of London talks may be enlarged.

4. We have informed United Kingdom of our deep concern with these matters and have sought urgently clarification of procedure contemplated for the discussions. We have also stated that where such discussions are relevant to general international post-war arrangements we strongly maintain that consultation should be extended to all the United Nations concerned and that Australia should be included among the principals in any arrangements applying to South-East Asia or the South-West Pacific.

5. A similar view has been communicated by the Australian Government to the United Kingdom regarding a proposal made by the United States last September that an understanding should be sought with regard to concessions or related rights to develop sub-soil resources in territory reoccupied from the enemy.

6. The whole subject of oil, both in its political and supply aspects, is of deep concern to us and we also regard future of Middle Eastern region as of vital interest. You are asked to watch the position closely and we should be glad to receive any further information that may be available regarding the background of proposed talks and the lines on which they are intended to proceed. Any general information likely to be useful in a general examination here of future of petroleum industry will also be useful.

1 Cablegram D218 on file AA:A989, 44/735/850.

2 U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Administrator of Public Works and Oil Administrator.

3 On the file cited in note 1.

[AA:A5954, BOX 606]