The Pittsburgh Press (September 15, 1941)
Roosevelt confers –
SHIPPING CURB REVISIONS PUT UP TO LEADERS
U.S. considers taking over Azores and Cape Verde Islands
By Lyle C. Wilson, United Press staff writer
Washington, Sept. 15 –
President Roosevelt today conferred with his Congressional leaders on the advisability of revising the Neutrality Act, which now bars American ships from war zones such as British ports, Speaker Sam Rayburn disclosed.
No conclusions were reached, Mr. Rayburn said, either on whether an attempt should be made to revise the act or on what specific changes might be desired by the administration.
The Neutrality Law also prohibits arming of American merchant ships regardless of where they operate.
Establishment of American bases at such Atlantic points as the Azores or the Cape Verde Islands would be another way of increasing the effectiveness of American war aid without changing the act.
Some observers believed occupation of the Atlantic islands off the coast of Africa to be the more likely of the two if the administration’s shoot-on-sight campaign against Axis raiders is not effective from present United States bases. Reports that Dakar, the French West African port, had become an Axis submarine base seemed to support that judgment.
The Azores and Cape Verde Islands belong to Portugal.
Mr. Rayburn would not say whether the President was interested more particularly in permitting American ships to sail into combat zones or in changing the law so they could be armed.
Test is expected
There have been reports that the administration is considering arming vessels operating between the Atlantic Coast and American outposts in Newfoundland, Labrador, Greenland and Iceland and to Red Sea ports. The waters of these shipping routes have been the scene of increasing Nazi activity.
Many in administration circles believed the new naval policy would be given a thorough test before Mr. Roosevelt decided whether to precipitate a Congressional fight over changing to the Neutrality Act.
Canvass of Congressional opinion failed to turn up evidence of early plans to change the Neutrality Act.
Except for the prohibition against private loans to belligerents and the prohibition against arming American merchant vessels against raiders, almost all provisions of the existing Neutrality Act can be materially altered by executive action or are susceptible to indirect nullification.
The prohibition against American flag ships entering combat zones or carrying cargo to belligerent states, for instance, largely can be circumvented by transferring vessels to some other neutral flag or directly to Great Britain. Mr. Roosevelt was able to make the Red Sea an aid-to-Britain supply route for American flag ships merely by proclaiming its entrance no longer a combat zone. The American freighter Steel Seafarer was sunk in the Red Sea and the freighter Arkansan was damaged last week in the Port of Suez.
Americans are forbidden by the Neutrality Act to take passage on belligerent flag vessels or to pass through a combat area, but those prohibitions may be waived. American tanks have been transferred to British registry to enable them to serve belligerents and many American-owned vessels operate under the Panamanian flag and thereby avoid Neutrality Act restrictions. The government has just waived on behalf of large numbers of Americans in Great Britain the prohibition against their return to the United States on British ships.
Some persons believe there is no immediate pressure on Mr. Roosevelt to precipitate the Congressional dispute which would accompany an effort to repeal the Neutrality Act. Best informed Congressmen are confident a repealer would pass the Senate with votes to spare. The House contest would be considerably closer.
Mr. Roosevelt emphatically raised the issue of occupation of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands in an address on May 27 before the Pan-American Union Governing Board, when he said:
Control or occupation by Nazi forces of any of the islands of the Atlantic would jeopardize the immediate safety of portions of North and South America, and of the island possessions of the United States, and, therefore, the ultimate safety of the continental United States itself.
They also have the armed power at any moment to occupy Spain and Portugal; and that threat extends not only to French North Africa and the western end of the Mediterranean but it extends also to the Atlantic fortress of Dakar, and to the island outposts of the New World – the Azores and Cape Verde Islands.
Since that speech, Mr. Roosevelt has established United States bases on Labrador and in Iceland and the United States freighter Robin Moor was reported torpedoed in the South Atlantic at a point so close to Dakar as to arouse suspicion that port had become a Nazi submarine base. Now come reports that many submarines are based there. It is believed that the Azores and Cape Verde Islands again will figure in the news if the shoot-on-sight policy against Atlantic raiders announced last week is not immediately effective. The Cape Verde Islands are 400 miles west of Dakar.