Franklin D. Roosevelt

Press Conference

December 05, 1939

THE PRESIDENT: Somebody will probably ask the question about the Finnish debt. I have taken it up with the Treasury Department. Of course we do not know anything about it except the press items reporting that the Finnish Legation has indicated that its Government intends to make payments on the due date, which is December fifteenth, and the amount is $234,693.

Of course, legally, if and when that is tendered to the Treasury, the Secretary of the Treasury has to accept it. I have asked the Secretary of the Treasury and he has agreed that he will place it in a suspense account—it is only a matter of two or three weeks anyway. I shall so inform the Congress after they get back here the third of January, with a recommendation that they take up the question of whether, by Congressional action, the use of it should not be changed from the general fund to some purpose for the benefit of the Finnish people.

I have not got to the point of deciding whether I shall make a specific recommendation, either in regard to that amount or previous payments over the last four or five years. At least this is a step indicating that the matter will be placed before the Congress at the earliest part of the session.

Q. Mr. President, I did not get the significance of your remark about the last four or five years.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the suggestion has been made, you know, that we should make available to the Finnish people more than this payment, or, in other words, some of the back payments that have been made.

Q. You cannot cancel the rest of the debt, can you, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I cannot do anything under the law except to turn it over to the Secretary of the Treasury.

Q. How about future payments, Mr. President? Would that likely be adjusted too?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, not that I know of This is just an immediate pending question.

Q. What did you have in mind as to the use to which this money might be put?

THE PRESIDENT: That is just exactly what I said. I said I could not go into details because I do not know. We shall talk it over, though, with Congress.

Q. Is there anything you can tell us at this time about the severance of diplomatic relations with Russia?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, there is no news today. I do not know about the future. Of course things are happening all the time. In regard to the general method of handling the foreign policy from day to day, I am inclined to think that it must be pretty good. What the Secretary of State is doing I think must be pretty good; and I think it must have the general approval of the great mass of the American people for one rather obvious reason. The criticisms and accusations are coming in large part from two sources: first, the Soviet press, a portion of the Nazi press and our little friend, I have forgotten his name, who is now publicity agent of the Republican National Committee. (Laughter) And also the Hearst papers. They are all substantially in accord in attacking the foreign policy of the American Government. And then, on the other side of the picture, a few statesmen in Russia and, I think, Germany, and a comparatively small number of politically-minded people in the House and Senate of the United States.

So, on the whole, as between those two sources, abroad and here, I would say probably that the foreign policy must be pretty good.

Q. Does that mean a continuation of relations with Russia must be pretty good?

THE PRESIDENT: No. I have answered that question before—There is no change today.

Q. Would you include Mr. Hoover in that last category, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: I do not think I need expand. I think it rather speaks for itself.

Q. Mr. Secretary-(laughter)- Mr. President, is there anything you can tell us today with regard to applying the neutrality law to Finland and Russia?

THE PRESIDENT: No, nothing on that today. Of course—let me give you just this for background and not for attribution in any way: You do have to consider that there are efforts being 'made at the present time, some of them you do not even know about, for the beginning of negotiations looking toward peace or toward the end of hostilities. There are different forces on the other side. We have nothing—we are not participating any more than what we have already done, but there are various efforts being made and the situation-this again only for background—is not yet completely hopeless. That is why I do not think we should do anything to upset any applecarts that may be in the making.

Q. You mean, of course, just Russia and Finland—not France and England?


Q. The thought that there is not declared to be a war, there is less likelihood of being one?

THE PRESIDENT: That is too hypothetical and too far off.

Q. That it is not declared formally by the United States to be a war, that there is a chance of escaping a full-fledged war?

THE PRESIDENT: I think you are narrowing it down. I think we have to be more general than to make any categorical statements of that kind.

Q. Referring again to the Finnish debt matter, have the Finns made any request themselves for any assistance in that regard?

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely none. Purely and wholly initiated by this Government.

Q. In that connection, do you believe that the Russians might properly consider that as an unneutral act in any respect?


Q. Here is a debt that the Finns owe us and we set it aside in a suspense account with the idea that Congress may consider using that fund for the Finnish people who have been attacked by Russia.

THE PRESIDENT: Not necessarily. Now you are presupposing that we would use that money to pay for airplanes to send over to Finland.

Q. I was not presupposing that at all, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: You must have been, or something along that line. Suppose, for the sake of argument, we were to take care of Finnish refugees, Finnish wounded? There is a little illustration that just proves the question. There are lots of ways it could be used in a perfectly neutral way.

Q. Can you tell us anything about the prosecution of foreign aliens who have been violating the Federal law?

THE PRESIDENT: No, except that it is getting on pretty well. The Attorney General is working on it.

Q. Referring to the question asked last week about public power policy, Secretary Ickes suggested this morning that there was a likelihood of a high power transmission system hooking up several power areas of the United States and also that there should be increased generation. He has hinted in his remarks to the utility people present that the Government may have to step in on both of these, if industry did not. Can you clear that up for us, please?

THE PRESIDENT: I think the easiest way is to tell you what I was just talking to Mr. Scattergood about. As you know, there is this problem of connecting links between privately owned transmission lines. In England they found that because these private companies were serving different localities, it was difficult for the private companies not to have a fight among themselves, if and when they managed a jointly owned connecting link. In other words, it was not a smooth running method of operation. So, as I remember it, the British organized one of those things that they have—a half-and-half Government-private control company— to build and operate, connecting links for the benefit of the private companies, with a joint management; and each of the private companies using these connecting links paid an equitable charge for the use of the connecting links. In England it is working very well.

As I understand it, they are studying a proposition of that kind, to have those connecting links built over here.

i used the illustration to Scattergood of all the railroads running into Chicago in the old days, when each one had its own railroad, and owned freight depots and everything else. Somebody came along and built the Chicago Belt Line, I think it was, which serves all the other roads; and all the roads pay to it a fee, a charge for the use of this connecting railroad that runs from the north side of Chicago around the city to the south side of Chicago and serves all roads. There is nothing startling in that, it is merely a matter of working out a system by which these connecting transmission lines can be built for the benefit of the private companies on all sides of them.

Q. Mr. President, any idea of the cost of such a program?


Q. The cost?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no; only in the initial study stage.

Q. Would it be necessary, in this country, to have joint management of the connecting links? Management by the Government?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we know it has worked awfully well in other places.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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