The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Germany (Gerard)


2214. Your 2900, September 16, 12 noon. The Secretary of State received Count Bernstorff on the 13th instant, and the following is the substance of the Secretary’s remarks: [Page 550]

He pointed out the objectionable features which made it impossible to reply to the Arabic note in its present form, that the attack upon the Arabic and the unconditional support by the German Government of the submarine commander made Bernstorff’s acceptance of the principles desired, valueless, and that the Arabic note did not disclose that any report had been received from the submarine commander. If there was such report we should be so informed. The instructions to the commander had not been definitely revealed, and the mistake of the German officer who attacked the Arabic made this Government doubtful as to the efficacy of his instructions. Furthermore, the Secretary pointed out that German declaration should be broadened so as to include all merchant vessels and not limited to passenger vessels. In past the Germans have very properly warned freight vessels as freighters might have Americans in crew.

He added that arbitration could not be discussed as we could not arbitrate justification of submarine commander, and only remaining question was amount of indemnity; in conclusion he expressed his opinion that Germany should admit that mistake was without justification, should disavow act of officer, and then question of arbitration could be considered.