Paris Peace Conf. 184.00101/17

Minutes of the Daily Meetings of the Commissioners Plenipotentiary, Thursday, February 20, 1919

  • Present:
    • Mr. Lansing
    • Mr. White
    • General Bliss
    • Mr. Dulles

1. Mr. Lansing stated that he had heard that Mr. Hoover had sent to the Commission an important document in regard to the general food situation. He stated that he had not seen this report, and inquired whether it had been brought to the attention of any of the other Commissioners. Mr. White and General Bliss stated that they had not seen this report. It was suggested that this matter be looked up and the report brought to the attention of all the Commissioners.

2. Mr. Dulles called attention to the memorandum of Lieut. Colonel Miles regarding Prof. Coolidge’s action in approving the investigation of a temporary boundary line between the German-Austrians and Slovenes in Carinthia. General Bliss stated that Colonel Miles was in the Crillon and suggested that he be heard briefly in regard to the matter. Before calling Colonel Miles into the meeting, Mr. Dulles read a portion of a telegram from the American Chargé at Belgrade transmitting an informal protest of the Slovene Government against the provisional line which it was understood the American investigators had determined upon. (Colonel Miles entered.)

Mr. Lansing inquired whether the Commissioners were called upon to take any action in regard to the Carinthian boundary dispute. Colonel Miles answered that Prof. Coolidge desired an expression of opinion from the Commission before any further action was taken towards making public the line of demarcation which had been agreed upon. Mr. Lansing inquired whether Prof. Coolidge had been authorized to arrange this boundary dispute. General Bliss stated that he had not and added that it was his personal opinion that if a decision was published, the Commission would be placed in an embarrassing position. Mr. Lansing agreed with General Bliss that no publication of this boundary decision should be made and inquired whether the line which the Americans had determined upon was not generally known to the inhabitants of the territory immediately concerned, and whether it would not be respected as a more or less unwritten agreement by these peoples.

The Commissioners all agreed that any publicity given to this matter would be most unfortunate and might lead to complications [Page 60] which would embarrass the government and the American Commission.

Mr. White inquired whether it would not be possible to communicate the results of Col. Miles’ investigation informally to the local authorities concerned as embodying the personal opinion of Prof. Coolidge in regard to the territory in dispute. General Bliss suggested an oral communication of this nature. (Mr. Lansing was called from the meeting.)

General Bliss and Mr. White continued the discussion of the boundary question, and Lieut. Colonel Miles gave further explanations of the circumstances of the investigation, pointing out that Prof. Coolidge had been led to approve the action which had been taken, in the interest of avoiding further unnecessary bloodshed. Both General Bliss and Mr. White agreed that there were only two courses possible, either that Prof. Coolidge should say nothing further about the whole matter, or, second, that he should write a personal note or send a personal oral message to the parties to the dispute to the general effect that he (Prof. Coolidge) had on his own initiative asked American officers to look over the territory to see whether an informal and temporary solution could be reached with a view to a cessation of hostilities—that in view of the fact that one of the parties to the dispute had already protested, i. e. the Serbians, it appeared that no further action was possible, and that the results of the investigation would not therefore be given out unless both parties requested it and that in any case any statement he might make would be only his personal opinion and would not bind either party.

It was decided that Mr. White should draw up a letter in the above sense which might be communicated to Prof. Coolidge for his guidance when Colonel Miles returned. General Bliss and Mr. White expressed the opinion that Prof. Coolidge had apparently become more deeply involved in the matter than he should have, and possibly more deeply than appeared from his written reports, that the American Commission should not in any way permit itself to be accused of playing a lone hand in this matter, and that Prof. Coolidge must get out of the tangle so as not to involve either the Commission or the United States.

General Bliss remarked that such incidents sometimes made him wish for the withdrawal of all the American field parties.

3. Mr. Sweetser was called into the meeting in connection with Memorandum No. 95, which had to do with the indiscretion of Mr. Talley in violating the President’s confidence by his article in the “Paris Herald” of February 16th. Mr. Sweetser recommended that the suggestion of the Press Committee of investigation—that Mr. Talley be excluded for two weeks from the meetings of the Commission—be [Page 61] approved. This recommendation was accepted, and it was decided that Mr. White should communicate the Commission’s decision at the morning meeting of the press correspondents.

4. The meeting was postponed until 12 o’clock, when Mr. Strauss appeared before the Commissioners (present Mr. Lansing, Mr. White, General Bliss) to speak in regard to the proposed loan of $60,000,000 to German-Austria to enable it to purchase foodstuffs. Mr. Strauss stated that the Austrian financiers who were at present in Paris discussing the food situation of Austria with Mr. Hoover had suggested the following securities for such a loan: (1) Austrian crowns; (2) Austrian securities abroad; (3) mortgage on Austrian salt mines; (4) mortgage on the Vienna tramway, light, heat system, etc. Mr. Strauss was of the opinion that none of these securities were of very great value, and said that it had been suggested that priority on the reparation which German-Austria might pay would be the best security. He stated that he was of the opinion that Italy, France and England might make no objection in case the “United States advances the same sum to them for their purchases of food from the United States. Italy, he said, seemed to be willing to appear in the role of the benefactor towards her former enemy, Austria.

There was some question in the minds of the Commissioners as to whether such a stipulation in regard to priority in receiving reparation would have to appear in the peace treaty. General Bliss was of the opinion that this could be forced through if the Council of Ten could agree. Mr. Lansing remarked that it would be necessary to get the other countries of the former Monarchy to consent, in view of their claims on German-Austria.

Mr. Strauss remarked on the terrible situation in Vienna, as far as could be judged from the reports which Mr. Hoover had received. General Bliss remarked that Mr. Hoover was preparing a memorandum on this whole question, which he hoped could be presented to the Supreme War Council. At Mr. Lansing’s suggestion, Mr. Strauss volunteered to prepare a memorandum in regard to the proposed loan to German-Austria, and Mr. Lansing agreed to endeavor to have this put upon the agenda of the Council of Ten.

4 [sic]. The Commissioners expressed surprise at Mr. Howe’s action in returning to Paris from Brindisi rather than proceeding on his mission to Syria. Mr. White said that Mr. Howe apparently felt that under present conditions of British and French occupation he would be unable to do any useful work. Some doubt was expressed as to whether Mr. Howe’s expenses should be paid for this useless journey. Mr. White remarked that he was afraid they should be paid, in which Mr. Lansing and General Bliss concurred.

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5. A letter from Mr. Auchincloss and a memorandum from Mr. Norman Davis was read regarding the assignment of Mr. Oscar T. Crosby to prepare a special report on: (1) debt of Austria-Hungary; (2) the amount of currency and notes issued in Austria-Hungary; and (3) the principles to be followed in determining the share of obligation at the time of dismemberment of the Empire. The President’s telegram to the Secretary of the Treasury, expressing the wish that Mr. Crosby should hold himself available for consultation on financial matters for the Peace Conference, was noted. It was remarked that it was not clear from this telegram whether the President really desired his appointment to the Commission or not. It was decided that Mr. Lansing should take up the matter with Mr. Norman Davis and also with Mr. Strauss, as Mr. Strauss’ report in regard to the proposed Austrian loan appeared to have to do with the same subject for which Mr. Crosby’s services were desired.

6. A telegram regarding cooperation with the British and French Admirals in the Adriatic, which had previously been submitted to Admiral Benson and approved, was read and accepted by the Commissioners. It was felt that Admiral Benson’s judgment in this matter should be accepted.

7. It was decided that Memorandum No. 96, quoting a statement of the Serbian Prime Minister to Chargé Dodge to the effect that the American Commission had inquired whether Serbia would consent to submit to the President the Italian-Jugo-Slav territorial question, should be submitted to Colonel House. Mr. Lansing stated that he had no knowledge that any such inquiry had been made by the American Commission and desired that information be obtained whether Colonel House had any knowledge that the President had given any such intimation.

8. Information Memorandum No. 21 containing recommendations in regard to Russia, was submitted to the Commissioners and read in part. Mr. Lansing observed that point 7, recommending favorable consideration of the requests of the Esthonian, Letton and Lithuanian Governments for material support, credits and supplies, was at present impossible, as no legislative action permitting this had ever been passed.

9. Portions of the report of the Danish Red Cross on Bolshevik atrocities were brought to the attention of the Commissioners, who expressed their horror and approved of the telegram to Copenhagen asking that any corroborative evidence which might be obtained should be submitted to the Commission.