File No. 763.72119/8735

Emperor Charles to President Wilson 1

The reply made by the President to my communication respecting the fundamental principles of a just and lasting peace, strengthens me in the conviction that between those principles on the one hand and my own views on the other, such a degree of harmony exists as is necessary to start a successful discussion of the conditions of that peace which is so heartily longed for by all states. The President’s reply contains nothing that deprives me of the hope that we may agree in the application of these principles. I am still of the opinion that the best method of procedure would be by means of direct oral discussion between one of my representatives and one appointed by Mr. Wilson. This would avoid a delay of many weeks. I believe that by so doing the President would be convinced that on the various special points mentioned by him we too are seeking, … to use his own words, [“such adjustments as are most likely to bring a peace that is permanent”].

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In this connection I can give the assurance that the satisfaction of the righteous national aspirations of those Slav peoples residing in such close proximity to my own territory must be my earnest desire in the permanent interest of my country, because those populations are so intimately related to large masses of my subjects, as the President rightly points out. If the President on his part is prepared for similar propositions, we shall gladly stretch out our hand to him and do all in our power to improve the conditions of their existence, their progress and trade, without allowing them to be bartered about from one sovereignty to another. At the same time, we cannot permit populations to be transferred against their wishes from one state to another in the interest of one particular race, as this cannot be done without infringing the rights of other states. Such a discussion would furnish proofs that we are not pursuing any policy with reference to the Adriatic coast which conflicts with any of Mr. Wilson’s principles, nor have we any desire to alter the balance in this region in our favour. But if we do not wish to introduce new elements of discord calculated to disturb the peace of Europe, in accordance with Mr. Wilson’s intentions, we must avoid securing to any state such a preponderance which might lead to [omission]; this would arise, e. g., if Italy were to seek territorial aggrandisement in that quarter. The rivalry in the Balkans is due to the fact that up to the present there has been no final territorial settlement, but such can, however, be attained if an earnest endeavour is made to solve these questions in favour of the populations, as Mr. Wilson manifestly desires. I have already suggested in this connection that the relation of (?Bulgars) [Italians?] living in [Austria-Hungary], with the mother country, the granting of the necessary commercial facilities to Serbia, etc., are questions for which a solution is to be sought and can be found by mutual agreement. Nor have I any doubt that, with regard to the protection of non-Turkish populations included in the Turkish Empire, a solution can be discovered which accords with the President’s pronouncements and takes into full consideration the just claims of Turkey.

The President inquires further what definite concessions to Italy I should regard as just. In my opinion, I should regard as just those concessions which are in harmony with the principles enunciated by him. Now the territorial aspirations of the Italian State, as openly proclaimed in this war, do not agree in the slightest with the principles laid down by the President. Italy demanded that the whole of the territory as far as [the Brenner?] and almost to Laibach, should be ceded on strategical grounds. Those are the demands of a war: of aggression. They are in contradiction with the President’s-principles. The population of the districts in question are in over [Page 186]whelming majority German or Slav and both peoples have regarded it as a grave injustice to be subjected by force to a foreign state with which they have no community of interests, sentiment or ideas. If, then, I understand the President’s question as it only can be understood in the light of his pronouncements—how far the definite wishes of Italy can be fulfilled, “not as part of any mere adjustment or compromise of claims of rival states” (in this case Austria and Italy), but “in the interest and [for the benefit] of the [populations] concerned”—it is not possible to regard any concession as just. Italy is striving for the possession of territory inhabited by a larger number of Slavs and Germans than Italians. As the Italian minority has with difficulty maintained itself for more than 400 years in Austrian [Tyrol], how can it aspire to the Carso region, the population of which is entirely Croatian and totally distinct from the Italians? Hence Italy desires to dominate a foreign people for whom the separation from Austria would mean commercial ruin. It would compel them to start a new existence. This would not be any solution in accordance with the President’s large principles, according to which all territorial questions raised by this war must be adjusted “in the interest and [for the benefit] of the populations [concerned].”

The President will be convinced after what I have said that I, like himself, am honestly anxious to discover for the war settlement such a basis [as] will meet just claims and which consequently will contain the elements of permanence [omission]. He will be convinced that I believe I have discovered such a basis in similar principles to those laid down by him. What remains to be established is whether, as I firmly believe and hope, we can agree as to the application of these principles in definite cases. The direct discussion proposed by me would have as its object to ascertain this and to supply each of us with the necessary information on this head. I hold that it is incumbent upon us to leave no avenue unexplored which offers any hope of restoring the vanished peace to our countries. In short, all belligerent states alike should pledge themselves to refrain from annexing foreign states, and I can only repeat that, if the President will endeavour to influence his allies in this direction, Austria too will do her utmost to induce her allies to similar action. There is only one obstacle to peace that cannot be solved in open discussion, and that is the French and Italian lust of conquest. If the President can induce both these states to renounce their plans of annexation, he will render the cause of universal peace the greatest service.

[No signature indicated]
  1. Intercepted text as sent by wireless from Vienna to Madrid, Mar. 23, 1918.