Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/8

[BC–4 and BC–4A]

Notes on Conversations Held in the Office of M. Pichon at the Quai d’Orsay, at 10:30 a.m., January 17, 1919

Present

United States of America: President Wilson
Mr. Lansing
Mr. Frazier
Mr. Harrison
British Empire: Mr. Lloyd George
Mr. Balfour
Lt. Col. Hankey
Maj. Abraham—Maj. Caccia
France: M. Clemenceau
M. Pichon
M. Dutasta
M. Berthelot
Prince de Bearn
Italy: M. Sonnino
Count Aldrovandi
Capt. Jones
Japan: Viscount Chinda
M. Matsui

Interpreter: M. Mantoux.

I

The Chairman read a telegram from Marshal Foch stating that the Armistice had been signed, and that all the provisions drafted at the meeting of the Supreme War Council before his departure for Spa, had been accepted by the German Government, including the important clause regarding the use of the German Commercial Fleet.

II

M. Pichon referred to the demands of the Press, that their representatives be present at all the Conferences.

President Wilson stated that he assumed that they referred to the Peace Conferences, and not to the small conferences now taking place.

M. Mantoux stated that he had been present when the matter was discussed with the Press, and that he understood they had insisted on being present at the small conferences.

[Page 613]

Mr. Lansing remarked that he understood from Mr. Swope1 of the New York World, that the Press did not demand to be present at those conversations, but what they resented was the fact that they had been denied access to those persons there present.

Mr. Lloyd George pointed out that if full summaries of the proceedings should be issued, as demanded by the Press, there would be no end to the Conference, and it would last some thirty years, as was the case in the Council of Trent.

President Wilson suggested that the matter be considered from the other end, and proposed that representatives of the Press be admitted to the conferences which would be held in the larger room.

M. Pichon observed that the larger room was too small to hold all the representatives of the Press.

M. Clemenceau suggested that the Press select a certain number of representatives.

President Wilson proposed that those present name the limit of the number of Press representatives who could attend the conferences in the larger room, and then have the Press select from amongst themselves those who should be present.

Baron Sonnino proposed that a limited number of Press men be admitted to the plenary conferences, that this should be announced, and that the Press be informed that they could not attend the private conversations.

Mr. Balfour reminded those present that in accordance with their own decision plenary conferences would be held only when subjects which concerned all the delegates were considered.

President Wilson expressed some doubt as to whether this was a final analysis. Surely a plenary conference would be a conference where all those who were interested in the subject under discussion were present.

Mr. Balfour thought it very alarming if this were true, for it would be, in his opinion, inadvisable to have the Press present at conferences in which territorial relations between the Poles, Czechoslovaks, Roumanians and Yugo-Slavs were discussed, that is to say, at conferences where the delegates of the Great Powers and delegates of certain other powers would be present.

President Wilson granted this point, but observed that Baron Sonnino had proposed the plenary idea, while he had proposed the room.

M. Pichon desired to point out that if the Press were present at those conferences where the Associated Governments would have to [Page 614]decide on the terms to be handed Germany, it would be extremely dangerous as the Press might well furnish the enemy with valuable information.

President Wilson remarked that as it would seem to be impossible to work out a plan by which publicity would be avoided, the problem in hand was to work out a method to insure correct publicity.

Mr. Lloyd George was not quite sure that this was the case. He referred to the fact that when questions were asked in Parliament as to the accuracy of a certain report, it was always possible to deny the truth of the report, unless it were absolutely correct. He thought that if he were now asked in Parliament questions concerning the decision taken in the conferences, he would be supported, if he were to refuse to make any statement, should he say that it would be against the best interests of the country to do so. He thought that he would be supported in such an attitude, as it would be readily understood that it would be impossible to give out the provisions of any treaty piecemeal. A treaty is always published as an entire completed document.

In his opinion the whole point of the discussion was whether things were to be decided by public clamor. He referred to the fact that just before the last elections in England the public were beginning to ask embarrassing questions about Peace terms, and if it had gone on his hands would have been tied. Consequently, he was in the main, in sympathy with M. Pichon’s observations. For his part, however, he was not afraid to face the Press. He did not believe that the public would support these demands of the Press. He observed that the small meetings might be compared to a cabinet of our nations and it was manifestly absurd to think that the Press should be present at a Cabinet meeting. If everything were public beforehand, how could the Associated Governments ever meet the enemy?

President Wilson thought that he might agree with what Mr. Lloyd George had just said, if it were not for the fact that he still thought that leaks were bound to occur of what transpired in the small conversations, because recently a private conversation which he had held in his own house regarding the solution of the Adriatic question was reported a day or so thereafter with a considerable degree of accuracy in the Daily Mail. He was afraid that the Press would be able to find out or divine what transpired at the private conversations.

Mr. Lloyd George did not think that the publication of information of that kind had the same effect as if it had been an accurate statement from an official source.

[Page 615]

M. Pichon again asked for some decision from those present, as to what sort of publicity shall be given the various types of conferences.

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that it would be well to stand in the main on the position already taken, namely, that as regards these conversations, there be given to the Press an official announcement containing the decisions arrived at each day; that no summary of the discussions be given to the press, as he might change his mind from day to day on a certain subject in the light of arguments advanced, and that he did not wish to confine himself to any line of action; that it be decided that fifteen or any other definite number of Press representatives might attend the first conference, and that it be not now decided that they should always be present.

President Wilson suggested that it might be advisable to issue an explanation to the Press explaining the necessity for making reservations with regard to publicity, etc., and that restrictions did not apply to the presence of the Press at the general sittings, although it might be necessary sometime to go into executive session, or say, in camera.

Mr. Lloyd George preferred not to commit himself regarding the President’s last suggestion as yet. He was looking ahead, and thought it preferable simply to decide to let the Press be present on Saturday, without prejudice.

Baron Sonnino pointed out that it would be very difficult to withdraw the permission after it had once been given.

President Wilson suggested that Mr. Lloyd George draft a statement to be issued to the Press, explaining the reasons for their decisions in the matter.

M. Clemenceau called President Wilson’s attention to an article carried in the New York Tribune, which, like many others, had been very severe to France. In this article it was claimed that the President did not deny certain things.

President Wilson agreed that this was the most abominable form of lying, and pointed out that of course he had not denied things which they claimed he would not deny, as he had never been asked about them. The President assured M. Clemenceau that he would telegraph to the editor of the New York Tribune about the matter.

Mr. Balfour inquired whether anything would be gained by asking American newspaper owners to come over here.

President Wilson replied that there were usually quite a number of owners of American papers, and in many cases the owners’ control was occasional and indirect.

[Page 616]

III

Mr. Balfour called attention to an apparently inadvertent omission from the list of small belligerent Allied states who were to receive representation at the Peace Conference, namely the Hedjaz. The King of Hedjaz had been acknowledged as a belligerent by France, Great Britain and Italy, and as matter of fact, had pulled off one of the most successful side shows or subsidiary operations during the war.

M. Pichon thought that the case of the King of Hedjaz was covered in the section containing the proposal regarding representation of states under process of formation.

Mr. Balfour observed that he thought there was a distinct difference between the Hedjaz and the Yugo-Slavs.

It was agreed that the Hedjaz receive two representatives.

IV

President Wilson called attention to the fact that the South American states who had broken relations were, according to his understanding, to be placed in the category of those who were to be present as of right. He inquired whether these states had received invitations.

M. Pichon answered in the affirmative.

President Wilson remarked that he thought the matter should be made clear and suggested a small amendment to the paragraphs of the procedure which was accepted.

M. Clemenceau suggested that there be an afternoon meeting to fix the order for the business of the meeting on Saturday, and to draw up an agenda. He felt very strongly that the agenda for any meeting must always be fixed between those present, and nothing was to be discussed, but what should be in the agenda.

M. Clemenceau’s proposal was accepted, and it was agreed to reconvene at three o’clock.

V

M. Pichon stated that he had received two emphatic protests, one from Belgium and the other from Serbia, against the number of delegates that had been assigned to them. The Belgian Council of Ministers had decided that resolutions to give Belgium only two seats are inacceptable, and had informed Baron Gaiffier, that he was himself to decide whether he would accept the invitation from the French Government to attend the Conference.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that this action on the part of Belgium was monstrous, and that it was absurd to give Belgium more than [Page 617]two votes, as against the five for the United States and France, when she had put only from 150,000 to 200,000 troops in the field.

Mr. Lansing pointed out that both Belgium and Serbia were invaded countries, and that their sacrifices had been just as great as if they had entered the War of their own accord.

Mr. Balfour observed that he personally would like to do any honor possible to Belgium. If these two countries were given three delegates on account of their sentimental claim he feared that it would open the door to many complaints. If they were to obtain more power in voting, he might agree, but he did not understand that that would be the case.

President Wilson expressed regret that the protest had come in a form which might lead to an impasse.

Baron Sonnino explained that the Belgian Government was faced with the difficulty of finding places for representatives of the two parties, namely, the Catholic and Socialist Parties.

M. Clemenceau spoke a word for Belgium, whose king had played a great part in a certain moment of history, and had given a fine example not only to Europe, but to America; as for Serbia, she had been most valiant, and had suffered great losses. He proposed that both countries be given three delegates.

Baron Sonnino observed that Serbia was likely to have more delegates when the Yugo-Slavs were recognized.

M. Pichon stated that he had received a notification from Mr. Vesnitch of the formation of a state composed of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The Foreign Office had replied to the notification by stating that the decision regarding the recognition of this kingdom would be made by the Conference. Vesnitch then made it clear that if an answer were not given, the Serbian delegates would present the matter at the first meeting of the Conference.

Mr. Lloyd George observed that there had been too many reversals of decisions taken. He might not resist, if this were to be the end of it. He feared that if Belgium and Serbia were given three delegates, Greece would have something to say, also Roumania, as soon as the information became public. If he were assured that this were the end of the matter, he would not resist.

President Wilson pointed out that the Belgian Government had stated in its protest that two delegates were not acceptable. Would they accept three?

M. Pichon explained that they would undoubtedly accept three, as they had already named their Minister for Foreign Affairs, and a representative of each of the two political parties.

It was decided to give three delegates each to Belgium and Serbia.

[Page 618]

VI

M. Pichon suggested that President Wilson’s proposal regarding a list of subjects to be discussed, should be used as the basis for the program of the work of the Conference, and that he would ask each delegation to submit their recommendations regarding the five following subjects, to the Conference:

1.
League of Nations
2.
Reparations
3.
New States
4.
Territorial Boundaries
5.
Colonial Possessions.

President Wilson observed that he had merely intended this list for the discussions at the conversations.

Mr. Balfour thought that if this list were submitted to the full Conference many a burning question would immediately arise.

President Wilson suggested that the presiding officer of the Conference should appoint committees on different subjects, then have the different delegations submit their reports on the different subjects to these committees, who will initiate in order the channels of distribution.

Mr. Lloyd George preferred that this matter be not arranged in the form of a resolution, but rather explained to the Conference by M. Clemenceau who could state at the same time the general headings under which the subject would have to be examined, and then invite the delegates to send to the Secretariat their views on questions which might concern them.

President Wilson asked what would happen, supposing someone at the first session arose and made another motion.

Mr. Lloyd George observed that if committees were set up a machinery might be created which it would be impossible to control. He thought it necessary to confine the action to reports on matters which concerned the delegations individually. These reports would then go to the Secretariat, and be submitted by the President to the Great Powers for their information.

This procedure was agreed upon.

Mr. Lloyd George hoped that one of the questions that the delegates would be asked to report on, would be the question of the punishment of those who had been guilty of infringement of the Law of Nations.

M. Pichon read Section III of the Plan of Procedure proposed by the Foreign Office.3

[Page 619]

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that the delegates also be asked to report their views on the question of the responsibility of the authors of the War, and particularly on international legislation for labor.

Mr. Balfour inquired as to how elastic this proposal for procedure was, and suggested that the President of the Conference be authorized to add any matters to the list he thought desirable.

M. Clemenceau explained that he considered himself the mandatory of those present. He preferred not to accept responsibility for extending or limiting the subject.

M. Clemenceau explained that he would invite all the delegations to submit views on all the questions mentioned in Section III of the French Plan of Procedure, and they would then be passed on by the Secretariat for the information of the Great Powers.

Baron Sonnino referred to the constitution of the Secretariat of the Conference. He understood that the President of the Conference was to name the Secretary of the Conference, to be assisted by representatives of and appointed by each delegation.

VII

President Wilson read the draft of the statement to be issued by those present to the Press. He stated that he did not know how to defend the privacy of the meeting of the large conference, except on special occasions. He thought that the arguments for the privacy of the small conferences were conclusive. For this reason, it was necessary to distinguish between the great conferences and the private conferences, and suggested that this be made clear all through the statement to the Press.

The President then proposed certain alterations in the draft statement, submitted by Mr. Lloyd George. The amended statement was read in English, translated into French, and accepted by those present.

Mr. Lloyd George observed that it was therefore understood that the conferences between those present and the representatives of the small powers were to be considered in the category of private conversations.

President Wilson stated that he understood that that was the decision.

Mr. Lloyd George said that the distinction was then to be one of rooms: conferences in the large room were to be open to the Press, except in cases where it was desirable to consider a certain subject in camera; all conferences in the small room were to be private.

President Wilson confirmed this as his understanding of the matter, and remarked that in the slang of today it would now be possible for them to know just “where they were at”.

[Page 620]

The draft statement proposed by Mr. Lloyd George reads as follows:

“The representatives of the Allied and Associated Powers have given earnest consideration to the question of publicity for the proceedings of the Peace Conference. They are anxious that the public, through the Press should have the fullest information compatible with safeguarding the supreme interest of all, which is that a just and honourable settlement should be arrived at with the minimum of delay. It is, however, obvious that the publicity for the Conference proceedings must be subject to the limitations necessarily imposed by the difficult and delicate nature of their task.

“The proceedings of a Peace Conference are far more analogous to those of a Cabinet than to those of a Parliament. Nobody has ever suggested that Cabinet Meetings should be held in public, and if they were so held, the work of government would become impossible. Cabinets are held in private in order that differences may be reconciled [and] agreement reached before the stage of publicity is begun. The essence of democratic method is not that deliberations of a Government should be conducted in public, but that its conclusions should be subject to the revision of a popular Chamber and to free and open discussion on the platform and in the Press before they are binding upon the people.

“The representatives of the Allied and Associated Powers have met in order to solve questions which affect the vital interests of many nations, and upon which at present they hold the most diverse views. The Conference cannot proceed by the method of a majority vote. No nation can be committed except by the free vote of its own delegates. The conclusions of the Conference therefore can only be formed by the difficult process of reaching agreement among all. This vital process would only be hindered if the discussion of every disputed question were to open by a public declaration by each Delegation of its own national point of view. Such a declaration would in many cases be followed by a public controversy. This would be serious enough if it were confined to controversy between parties within each State. It might be extremely dangerous if, as would often be inevitable, it resulted in controversy between nations. Moreover, such public declarations would make that give and take on the part of the delegates themselves, which is essential to a successful negotiation, a matter of infinitely greater difficulty.

“It is also extremely important that the settlement should be not only just but speedy. Every belligerent Power is anxious for the early conclusion of Peace, in order that its armies may be demobilized and that it may return once more to the ways of peace. If premature publicity is given to the negotiations, the proceedings of the Peace Conference would be interminably protracted, and the delegates would be forced to speak not only to the business before the Conference, but to concern themselves with the controversies which had been raised by the account of their proceedings outside.

“Finally, there will often be very strong reasons against announcing the conclusions of the Conference as they are arrived at. Representatives of a nation may be willing to give their assent on one point only provided they receive a concession on another point which has [Page 621]not yet been discussed. It will not be possible to judge of the wisdom and justice of the Peace settlement until it can be viewed as a whole, and premature announcements might lead to misapprehensions and anxiety as to the ultimate results for which there was no real foundation.

“In calling attention, however, to this necessary limitation on publicity the representatives of the Powers do not underrate the importance of carrying public opinion with them in the vast task by which they are confronted. They recognize that unless public opinion approved of the results of their labours they will be nugatory. They cannot forget that the conclusions at which they arrive can only become operative after they have received the free and unfettered assent of the representatives of the people. Communiqués as full as is compatible with the public interest will be issued regularly, and representatives of the Press will be invited to attend the proceedings whenever possible.”

The text of the statement, as amended by President Wilson, reads as follows:

“The representatives of the Allied and Associated Powers have given earnest consideration to the question of publicity for the proceedings of the Peace Conference. They are anxious that the public, through the Press, should have the fullest information compatible with safe-guarding the supreme interest of all, which is that a just and honourable settlement should be arrived at with the minimum of delay. It is, however, obvious that publicity with regard to the preliminary conversations now proceeding must be subject to the limitations necessarily imposed by the difficult and delicate nature of their object.

“The proceedings of a Peace Conference are far more analogous to those of a Cabinet than to those of a legislature. Nobody has ever suggested that Cabinet Meetings should be held in public, and if they were so held, the work of government would become impossible. One reason why Cabinets are held in private is in order that differences may be reconciled and agreement reached before the stage of publicity is begun. The essence of democratic method is not that deliberations of a Government should be conducted in public, but that its conclusions should be subject to the consideration of a popular Chamber and to free and open discussion on the platform and in the Press.

“The representatives of the Allied and Associated Powers are holding conversations in order to solve questions which affect the vital interests of many nations and upon which they may at present hold many diverse views. These deliberations cannot proceed by the method of a majority vote. No nation can be committed except by the free vote of its own delegates. The conclusions arrived at at these consultations, therefore, can only be formed by the difficult process of reaching agreement among all. This vital process would only be hindered if the discussion of every disputed question were to open by a public declaration by each Delegation of its own national point of view. Such a declaration would in many cases be followed by premature public controversy. This would be serious [Page 622]enough if it were confined to controversy between parties within each State. It might be extremely dangerous if, as would often be inevitable, it resulted in controversy between nations. Moreover such public declarations would render that give and take on the part of the delegates themselves, which is essential to a successful negotiation, a matter of infinitely greater difficulty.

“It is also extremely important that the settlement should be not only just but speedy. Every belligerent Power is anxious for the early conclusion of peace, in order that its armies may be demobilized and that it may return once more to the ways of peace. If premature publicity is given to the negotiations, the proceedings of the Peace Conference would be interminably protracted, and the delegates would be forced to speak not only to the business before the Conference, but to concern themselves with the controversies which had been raised by the account of their proceedings outside.

“Finally, there will often be very strong reasons against announcing the conclusions of the conversations as they are arrived at. Representatives of a nation may be willing to give their assent on one point only provided they receive a concession on another point which has not yet been discussed. It will not be possible to judge of the wisdom and justice of the Peace settlement until it can be viewed as a whole, and premature announcements might lead to misapprehensions and anxiety as to the ultimate results for which there was no real foundation.

“In calling attention, however, to these necessary limitations on publicity, the representatives of the Powers do not underrate the importance of carrying public opinion with them in the vast task by which they are confronted. They recognize that unless public opinion approved of the results of their labours they will be nugatory.

“This reasoning applies with conclusive force to the present conversations between the representatives of the Great Powers.

“With regard to the full conferences the following rule was adopted:

“Representatives of the Press will be admitted to the meetings of the full Conference but upon necessary occasions the deliberations of the Conference may be held in camera”.

  1. Herbert B. Swope, chief correspondent for the New York World at the Peace Conference.
  2. Vol. i, p. 389.