File No. 763.72119/10497
The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page) to the Secretary of State
[Received 7 p.m.]
8826. For the Secretary and President only:
My 8815 of yesterday. I have had a long private and wholly unofficial conversation with Balfour. He left the impression clearly on my mind that he regards the Austrian approach made separately to the United States as another class [case] of the German policy of [Page 141]trying to create trouble between the Allies. It is admitted in Fürstenberg’s telegram of February 231 that the German Government is essentially a partner in this approach and Hertling’s speech also makes this partnership plain. Balfour pointed out that there are several ways in which conversation between the United States and Austria at this stage of the war and without a more specific basis of discussion might be hoped by Germany to create dissension. One way is this. The British and French treaty with Italy, which is regrettable, but by which Great Britain and France are in honor bound, cannot be overcome to square with the President’s just conditions of peace. If this fact leaked out in a conversation and [should] be made known by Germany, Italy might abandon the war. Balfour thinks that this unfortunate treaty will not give trouble in the end, but any premature discussion or even mention of it might [give] trouble.
Another possible unfortunate effect might be a dampening of war spirit in the United States if it became known that peace conversation was going on, and the Germans would make it known if it suited their purpose.
Mr. Balfour pointed out other possible troubles that might be caused. He remarked that nothing could bring disagreement between the United States and Great Britain but that many complications might arise with other governments. Then he said: “I suppose of course that the President would prefer House as his spokesman. If House came to Europe now to discuss peace the whole world would blaze with expectations, with discouraging effect in all Entente countries.”
He spoke of [Smuts’s] private and unsuccessful errand to Switzerland which became known, to Great Britain’s embarrassment, against the greatest precautions.
He knows that Austria is most eager for peace, but in this move through Madrid the hand of Berlin is visible. The real wishes of Austria are much more clearly set forth in the Herron conversations in Switzerland than in the Emperor’s message to the King of Spain.
I sought this conversation with Balfour on my own initiative in the hope of extracting from him some intimation of his views for your information. I disapprove of [suppose?] what he said was consciously designed for communication to you, but his conviction and feeling were clear. It is certain that he hopes that the President will decline to discuss a general peace with Austria alone.