File No. 763.72119/7725

The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page) to the Secretary of State


8748. For the Secretary and the President:

Admiral Hall informs me that he has just learned … that on the 18th instant the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs at Vienna sent a cipher message to his Ambassador at Madrid of which the following is a translation.

On behalf of His Highness, Your Excellency is requested to communicate the following words without delay to the King of Spain and to hand it to him in writing:

The European situation has been materially cleared up by Mr. Wilson’s public speech on the one hand and by Count Czernin’s on the other and the points at issue have been reduced to a certain minimum; hence the time seems to have come when a direct discussion between one of my representatives and one representing Mr. Wilson might clear up the situation to such an extent that no further obstacle would stand in the way of a world’s peace congress.

Your magnanimous desire so frequently expressed to pronounce proposals for peace at such a time prompts me to request you to forward the following message through a secret channel to President Wilson:

In his speech of February 12 [11] President Wilson expressed four main principles as the foundation of an understanding to be hoped for. My position in regard to these four principles I can sum up as follows:

In point 1 President Wilson demanded, according to the German text before me, “that each part of the final settlement must be basis for [based upon] the essential justice of that particular case and upon such adjustments as are most likely to bring a peace that will be permanent.” With this guiding principle I am in agreement. Every man of principle and intellect must desire a solution which assures lasting peace and it is only a just peace, securing vital interests, that can afford such a solution.

Points 2 and 3 belong together and are to the effect that “peoples and provinces are not to be bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were chattels and pawns in a game, even the great game, now [Page 127] for ever discredited, of the balance of power, but that every territorial settlement involved in the war must be made in the interest and for the benefit of the populations concerned and not as a part of any mere adjustment or compromise of claims among the rival states.”

The question of territory, I believe, will resolve itself very simply if all governments expressly declare that they renounce conquests and annexations. Of course all states would have to be placed on the same footing. If the President will endeavor to bring his allies into line in this respect, Austria will do everything in her power to’ induce her own allies to take up this position. As regards what might be accomplished in respect of possible frontier modifications in the interest and in favor of the peoples concerned, similar friendly conversations may be carried on between state and state; for, and this seemed to be the opinion of the President too, a lasting peace could scarcely be promoted if, in a desire to avoid a forcible transference from the sovereignty of one power to another, we wished to prevent a corresponding territorial settlement in other parts of Europe where hitherto there has been no fixity of frontiers, as in the case of the part of [Macedonia?] inhabited by Bulgars. However, the principle must remain that no state shall gain or lose anything and the pre-war possessions of all states be regarded as inviolable.

Point 4, “all well defined national aspirations shall be accorded the utmost satisfaction that can be accorded to them without introducing new or perpetuating old elements of discord and antagonism that would be likely in time to break the peace of Europe and consequently of the world.”

This statement too, so clearly and aptly put by the President, is acceptable as a basis. Again I lay the greatest stress on the fact that any fresh settlement of conditions in Europe should not increase the risk of future conflict, but rather diminish it. Wilson’s sincerity in saying “that the American Government was quite ready to be shown that the settlements she has suggested are not the best or the most enduring”, arouses in us a high hope that we may in this question, too, reach some agreement. In this exchange of opinion we shall be in a position to furnish conclusive proof that there are national demands the satisfying of which would be neither good nor enduring nor would they provide for the grievances which are continually put forward a solution which would meet the wishes of the states affected. We shall be able to establish this in the case of the national claims of Italy to the part of the Austrian Tyrol inhabited by Italians by means of the proof of indisputable manifestations and expressions of the popular will in this part of the Monarchy. I must therefore, for my part, most strongly urge that my representative discuss with the President every possible means of preventing fresh crises. In the principle already enunciated of an entire renunciation of annexations the demand for the complete surrender of Belgium is apparently also included. All questions of detail, such as Serbia’s access to the sea, the granting of the necessary commerce and navigation outlets for Serbia, and many other questions, could be certainly cleared up by discussion and prepared for a peace conference.

The second main principle which the President had already established consists in the unconditional avoidance of a future war. With this I am in complete accord.

As regards the third point laid down by the President, the main purport of which is general disarmament and freedom of the seas for the prevention of future world wars, there is no difference of opinion between the President and myself. In view of all this I hold that there exists such a degree of harmony between the principles laid down by the President on the one hand and [my own] on the other that results might be expected from an actual conference and that such a conference might bring the world considerably nearer to the peace fervently desired by all states.

If you will be good enough to forward this reply to Mr. Wilson I believe you would render the cause of peace in general and the whole human race the greatest service in the power of any benefactor. Karl.

Your Excellency is requested to communicate the result of your démarche. Czernin.