Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/8


Secretary’s Notes of a Conversation Held in M. Pichon’s Room at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, on Friday, January 17, 1919, at 10:30 a.m.

  • Present
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
      • M. Pichon.
      • M. Dutasta.
      • M. Berthelot.
      • M. Fromageot.*
      • Captain A. Portier.
    • Great Britain
      • The Rt. Hon. David Lloyd George.
      • The Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour.
      • Lt-Col. Sir M. P. A. Hankey, K. C. B.
      • Captain E. Abraham.
    • Italy
      • Baron Sonnino.
      • Count Aldrovandi.
      • Major A. Jones.
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
      • Mr. R. Lansing.
      • Mr. A. H. Frazier.
      • Mr. L. Harrison.*
    • Japan
      • M. Matsui.
      • Viscount Chinda.

Interpreter: Professor P. J. Mantoux.

1. Acceptance of Armistice Clauses M. Clemenceau said that before beginning the business of the meeting, he wished to inform the Conference that Marshal Foch had obtained the signature of the Germans to the Armistice clauses drawn up on the previous Monday, concerning finance, Russian prisoners, the occupation of a bridgehead east of Strasburg, the delivery of the German commercial fleet, and, in fact, of all the clauses which had been proposed.

2. Publications in Press Mr. Lloyd George, referring to the anxiety of the Press to attend the meetings of the Peace Conference, said that two classes of general conference might be distinguished. Firstly, there was the kind of conference to which all were admitted. Such conferences would be of a formal nature and little business would be transacted in them. Secondly, there would be conferences of the Great Powers with two or three of the smaller Powers, or young nations, such as Yugo-Slavs, the Poles, and Czechoslovaks associated with them. If publicity could safely be given to the first class, he asked whether it should be held to extend to the second. The second class of conference would be dealing with highly contentious questions, and he felt that their business would be much hampered by publicity.

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President Wilson suggested that the reporters could be told that admission would be confined to conferences held in the large room at Quai d’Orsay. Conferences of the second class mentioned by Mr. Lloyd George could be held in the small room, and the Press could be thereby excluded from hearing the discussion.

M. Clemenceau said that, apart from this question, it must be clearly stated that no publicity would be granted to the kind of conference now sitting. He suggested that the Press should be definitely informed of this, and that there should be a unanimous vote to that effect.

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that what took place on these occasions could correctly be termed conversations, but not conferences. He pointed out that all the Delegates of the Powers represented were not present, but only two. These meetings, therefore, were in no sense conferences.

M. Clemenceau said he wished to issue a communiqué to the Press telling them clearly in what cases publicity would be allowed, and in what cases it would be refused.

President Wilson, quoting the resolutions of the Special Committee appointed by the delegates of the Allied and American Press, observed that they asked for “full publicity for the peace negotiations.” The proceedings now going on were not peace negotiations. The peace negotiations would, doubtless, be undertaken only in the big conferences. The second point asked for was that the official communiqué should be as complete as possible. The third was that, in addition to communiqués, full summaries of the day’s proceedings should be issued for the guidance of the members of the Press, “who would maintain full freedom of comment.” The fourth was that free intercourse should be allowed between Delegates and responsible journalists.

M. Mantoux, who attended the meeting of the Press, stated that their demands related to the small as well as the big conferences.

Mr. Lloyd George asked whether the full summaries requested by the Press, in addition to communiqués, meant an account of the speeches made in the conferences. If this was so, he was opposed to the granting of such summaries. The procès-verbaux of the meetings could not be made public, otherwise business would become impossible. The Conference would tend to resemble the Council of Trent, whose labours were terminated in forty-three years after the death of all the original members.

President Wilson suggested that the matter should be approached from the other end. He suggested that representatives of the Press be admitted to conferences held in the large room.

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M. Clemenceau enquired how the representatives were to be selected.

President Wilson said that it would be enough to fix a number and leave it to the pressmen to elect their own delegates.

M. Clemenceau said that if the decision was that the pressmen should not enter the smaller conferences, it was necessary to state this clearly.

Baron Sonnino suggested that their attendance should be limited to plenary conferences. He did not think a discrimination could be based upon the size of the room. Summaries of the smaller conferences would be furnished. He quite agreed that no pressmen could be allowed to attend the private conversations of the Great Powers.

Mr. Balfour observed that the only plenary conferences would be those dealing with subjects in which all nations were concerned. It had been laid down that the small nations should only be present to watch their special interests. Hence, the range of subjects for plenary conferences was very limited. The question of the League of Nations might be instanced as one, and possibly there were financial questions concerning all nations. In any case, the subjects requiring plenary conferences would be very few. Hence, though the privilege granted to the Press might appear great, in practice it would be found insignificant.

President Wilson asked whether a plenary conference could not be held to mean a conference attended by all those interested in any given question. If, for instance, there were a question in which only the Great Powers were concerned, there would be a plenary conference when their entire Delegations were present.

Mr. Balfour said that on this definition a subject like the territorial adjustment of Poland, Czecho-Slovakia or Yugo-Slavia, which required the presence of the Delegates of these peoples together with those of the Great Powers, would give rise to a plenary conference. Even if such a conference were held in the smaller room, we should be bound to admit the Press. He considered this very alarming.

President Wilson said it was, then, perhaps wiser to mention the room instead of defining the nature of the conference.

Baron Sonnino said that in his view a plenary conference was not one held to decide a particular interest even should all those concerned in it be present. A plenary conference would be one dealing with a group of questions, or one held to give final sanction to a group of decisions. For instance, reparation due to a damaged country would not be a question for a plenary conference, but the whole principle of reparation and its distribution over the whole of the damaged countries would be a subject for a plenary conference. [Page 597] Further, if general rules were laid down, it would be necessary to obtain sanction to them from a plenary conference.

M. Pichon said that he wished to make an observation which, in his opinion, had an important bearing on this subject. We were only considering Allied and Associated Nations, but there were also enemy nations, and this should not be overlooked. It had been decided that those nations should not be admitted to the Conference until the Allies had agreed among themselves. Were the Allies then to inform them in advance of their decisions and of all the discussions undertaken in the process of reaching these decisions? This would be in effect admitting them to the Conference, from which it had been decided to exclude them. He could not but regard this as extremely dangerous.

President Wilson said that the question under discussion was not so much a question of publicity or no publicity, as one of useful as opposed to perverted publicity. Publicity as such could not be avoided. It had not been avoided in reference to the meetings held hitherto. The only problem, therefore, was to obtain correct publicity.

Mr. Lloyd George said that he did not feel quite sure that this was so. There was a great difference between conjectural reports and official summaries. The authority of the latter was infinitely greater than that of the former. If questions were put in Parliament regarding the former, it was always possible to reply that they were incorrect or incomplete. This answer was not possible in regard to the latter. If at every state of the discussion public and parliamentary agitation had to be pacified the discussion might be prolonged ad infinitum. What he wished to avoid was a Peace settled by public clamour. He had just had the experience of an election in England, during which the public was beginning to ask embarrassing questions concerning peace. Had the election lasted longer he might have come to the Conference with his hands tied by pledges, and deprived of his freedom of action. He wished to remain free to be convinced. If there were daily reports of the discussions as soon as the representative of any country yielded on a point that he had maintained on the previous day there would be headlines in the Press: “Great Britain is betrayed,” or “France is betrayed.” He therefore, on the whole, agreed with M. Pichon. He felt great misgiving concerning the view taken by Baron Sonnino that all final decisions on big questions should go to the plenary conference. There were numerous subjects concerning which premature publicity would render it impossible for any statesman to sign any treaty at all. He instanced the question of Syria and of indemnities. At a later stage it would be possible to show to the public that, if this or that had been conceded, other advantages had [Page 598] been obtained. He was not afraid of facing the Press, as he did not believe their demands were backed by the public. The Press was well aware that it was excluded from proceedings of Cabinets. This was a Cabinet of the nations. Furthermore, the enemy must not know beforehand what our decisions were, and still less what our differences were. Dangerous agitations might be aroused even in our own countries by premature publication of news, and he pointed out that in France and Italy the elections had not yet taken place.

President Wilson said that he might agree with all Mr. Lloyd George had said and yet feel that the difficulty had not been met. He gave as an instance certain conversations which had occurred in the house in which he lived, and had been reported shortly after in the Press with a considerable degree of accuracy. The subject discussed was one of great concern to a large group of nations. Leakages, he felt sure, could not be prevented. The Press would always either find out what had happened or make very accurate guesses.

Mr. Lloyd George gave as an instance of a well-kept secret the debate on the language of the Conference, which had lasted some hours in that room, and had not been divulged in any newspaper, as far as he was aware. He thought that we should stand in the main on the line we had already taken up. What occurred in M. Pichon’s room should be treated as conversations held with a purpose of reaching agreement. The Press should be given the result of each day’s work. No summary should be given, as he wished to be able to say on one day what he thought, but on the morrow, if he had changed his mind after hearing his colleagues, to be free to do so. As to the Conference on Saturday, he proposed that the Press should be informed that 15 of their number should be admitted, and this without prejudice to the question of their admission at other conferences hereafter.

M. Clemenceau suggested a text in the following sense:—

“The widest publicity will be given to accurate reports of both plenary and partial sittings.”

Mr. Balfour suggested that the word “general” should be substituted for the word “plenary.” He deprecated the offer of any information concerning partial conferences.

President Wilson said that in the communication to the Press there should be a full and considerate explanation of the reasons for refusing the admission of reporters to the conversations. It might be added that those reasons did not apply with the same force to sessions of the general Conference.

Mr. Lloyd George said he would not like to pledge himself to admitting the Press constantly to the general Conference. He saw difficulties ahead. Extreme views might be uttered in open meetings [Page 599] which it might not be convenient to refute there and then. He would prefer to offer the Press an invitation for Saturday only, without reference to the future.

President Wilson suggested that in addition to an explanation concerning the conversations, it might be said that even the general Conferences might find it necessary to enter into what was called in America “Executive Session.” He suggested that Mr. Lloyd George should draft the message to the Press on the lines explained by him so persuasively in the Meeting.

Mr. Lloyd George undertook to do so and present the draft at the afternoon’s Meeting.

3. Indiscretions in the American Press M. Clemenceau said that he felt bound regretfully to draw attention again to certain mischievous statements in the in the American Press. He drew special attention to a despatch published in the New York Tribune.

President Wilson undertook to send a protest to the editor of the newspaper.

M. Clemenceau also pointed out that it was stated in the American Press that the French censorship prevented telegrams from going to America.

(It was agreed that M. Clemenceau should deny this.)

4. Representation of The Hedjaz Mr. Balfour observed that, in the list drawn up concerning the representation of small belligerent countries the representation of the kingdom of The Hedjaz had been overlooked. He felt that all would recognize that The Hedjaz was entitled to representation as having taken an effective part in one of the most successful of the subsidiary campaigns of the war. He believed that the meeting would be unanimous in favour of rectifying the omission.

M. Pichon pointed out that the case was met by the clause guaranteeing one Representative to each State in process of formation.

Mr. Balfour enquired whether the Hedjaz could be represented at the Conference on Saturday.

M. Pichon thought that The Hedjaz should be in the same category as Yugo-Slavia.

Mr. Balfour observed that The Hedjaz was a constituted State, and should be represented as such. It had been recognised by France and Great Britain.

M. Pichon pointed out that it had not been as yet recognised by Italy, by the United States, or by Japan.

(After consulting the Representatives of the last-named Powers, it was decided that The Hedjaz should be represented at the Conference by two Delegates).

[Page 600]

5. Representation of States Having Broken Off Diplomatic Relations With the Enemy President Wilson drew attention to the representation of States, such as Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Uruguay. He had understood that these States attended the Conference as of right of when they concerned in the subjects under discussion. In the Regulations, however, they were with the Enemy placed on the same footing as neutral Powers, attending meetings only when summoned. He, therefore suggested that the Regulations should be amended.

The Regulations were accordingly amended as follows:—

“Article I, paragraph 3. The Powers in a state of diplomatic rupture with the enemy Powers (Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay) shall take part in the sessions at which questions concerning them are discussed”.

The last paragraph of Article I will read:—

“Neutral Powers and States in process of formation shall be heard either orally or in writing, when summoned by the Powers with general interests, at sessions devoted especially to the examination of questions directly concerning them, but only in so far as those questions are concerned.”

The last clause of the first paragraph of Article II will read:—

“One for Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Hayti, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay.”

6. Agenda for Opening Session of Peace Conference M. Clemenceau proposed that, at the afternoon meeting, an agenda should be fixed for the opening session of the Peace Conference on Saturday. He thought it was most important that discussions at the big conferences should not stray beyond the agenda. This agenda should, in all cases, be prepared in the small committee. This was specially necessary for the first occasion. He did not wish the gathering to be of a merely formal nature. Certain points should be laid down as questions for study. These would be referred, according to President Wilson’s suggestion, to the various Delegations, and the public would infer that the Congress meant to work. The public would further understand that another sitting could not follow at once, as time would be required for the completion of the study of the various points enumerated.

(It was agreed that proposals should be made for this agenda in the afternoon.)

  1. These were present at the two previous meetings. [Footnote in the original.]
  2. These were present at the two previous meetings. [Footnote in the original.]