Paris Peace Conf. 184.00101/22

Minutes of the Daily Meetings of the Commissioners Plenipotentiary, Wednesday, February 26, 1919

  • Present:
    • Mr. Lansing
    • Mr. White
    • Mr. H. R. Wilson

1. Dr. Bliss of the American College in Beirut, Syria, was called in. He declared that Syria was a small country, but that the principle involved was clear cut and one which affected the honor of the United States and her allies. Syria is depending on the Article of the President’s declaration concerning the right of self-determination of race, and specifically of the twelfth point which refers to the Turkish affairs. France also made a declaration in November 1918,50 of which Dr. Bliss sketched the history, which they now seem to be ignoring. Dr. Bliss urged strongly the sending of an inter-Allied Commission for examination of this matter, whatever might be its findings, it would satisfy the demands of honor. Mr. Lansing stated that he had made the same proposal but that it had been refused by Pichon under orders from Clemenceau. Mr. Lansing declared himself ready to [Page 77] press the matter providing he was sure of British assistance. Dr. Bliss replied that Mr. Balfour was in favor of the project. Mr. Lansing assured Dr. Bliss that the affair would not go by default, and that when it is seen that definite action is contemplated in regard to Syria it will be time to make a protest. The Commissioners are considering carefully what is proper. Dr. Bliss declared that the country should certainly not be handed over before the wishes of the people were consulted, and both the Commissioners agreed. Dr. Bliss stated that a Syrian from Lebanon, a representative man, had declared to him that the Syrians would unanimously favor America for the mandatory power. The same statement has been made to him by other persons from Syria. Mr. White inquired how the Commission in Syria could get a comprehensive view of the situation, because of the propaganda of both the British and French. Dr. Bliss replied it was difficult, but not impossible. Men must be selected of character and dignity. He declared that if it was impossible to send an inter-Allied Commission, he strongly recommended that an American Commission go out which could talk freely to all classes of Syrians. He was not in favor of calling for Syrians to come to Paris, since how could the proper men be chosen. … Mr. Lansing informed him that no decision was imminent. (Dr. Bliss withdrew.)

2. Mr. Hoover entered. Mr. Hoover stated that at Triest he had been able to accumulate 80 or 90 thousand tons of food stuffs, and had been endeavoring for over a month to get it inland for distribution, but that he was meeting with the most constant and irritating obstruction, strikes, lack of railway accommodations etc. He has now been informed that the day before yesterday the Italians severed all connection with the Jugo-Slavs, and that practically a state of war exists, due to incidents at Laibach. The Italians have declared that they cannot, therefore, move any further quantities of food from Triest but will endeavor to move four trains a day through Tyrol to Austria. This would place in the country about 20% of the necessary food, and might take care of the immediate needs only of Vienna and the Czecho-Slovaks. Mr. Lansing asked what recommendation he made to stop this condition of affairs, and Mr. Hoover replied that it could be stopped by informing the Italians that they would get no more food from the United States unless they facilitated the operation of the relief administration. He desires to have the means of management in his hands, definite rolling stock and right of transportation. He declares that what rolling stock has been demanded from Austria should be immediately handed over to the relief.

Mr. Lansing inquired whether Mr. Hoover had already threatened the Italians. Mr. Hoover replied that he was not in a position to threaten, but that he had pointed out the very painful impression [Page 78] that such action would make, and the conviction that it would persuade the American people that the whole question of the Adriatic countries, including Italy, should be abandoned and they should be left to settle their own affairs. Mr. Hoover stated that he had listened in the Supreme Economic Council to Mr. Crespi51 who wept over the Italian economic conditions, but that this kind of thing was not getting anybody anywhere. Mr. Lansing inquired what definite steps Mr. Hoover had to propose. Mr. Hoover proposed a telegram to the President explaining the case, and recommending that food be stopped to Italy unless necessary facilities are given to Mr. Hoover to carry out his work. Mr. Lansing stated that a telegram of such importance should be shown to all the Commissioners, and requested Mr. Hoover to draw up and furnish him with such a telegram. Mr. Hoover then explained the difficulties he had encountered in obtaining recognition for his Commission in Triest. Mr. White remarked that the Italians have a genius for obstruction. Mr. Lansing suggested, without insisting upon the point of view, that a telegram be drafted for the President and shown to Mr. Sonnino with the intimation that unless matters were remedied it would be sent to the President. Mr. Hoover replied that he had already sent one of his best men to Rome where he could explain the situation to Mr. Orlando, and that he encountered the same policy of obstruction.

3. Mr. Hoover stated that he was prevented by law from feeding Vienna, and that people were daily dying there from starvation. He hopes that by allowing somebody else to make the payment he can get food to that city. Some 25,000 tons of food at Triest could be sold to the Italians under the understanding that it should be shipped to Vienna. Mr. Hoover acknowledged a certain inconsistency between this project and the ideas he had developed above, and added that Italian security itself was not satisfactory, but that politically it was important that food should reach Vienna to prevent an explosion which otherwise might be anticipated within a week.

4. Mr. Hoover then introduced the subject of food agreements with the Polish Government. He inquired from Mr. Lansing whether it was preferable that contracts with the Polish Government should be drawn up through the State Department. Mr. Lansing replied that he thought the War Trade Board. He believed that contracts might be drawn up in the name of the relief organization but not of the American Government, and that Mr. Hoover should have legal counsel on the subject. Mr. Hoover stated that the contract would have a form somewhat as follows: [Page 79]

“The Polish Government having applied for certain food stuffs, and the Allied Governments having declared their intention of furnishing such provisions, and the United States having created a Relief Administration, this Administration has found it possible to set aside certain quantities for Poland.”

Mr. Hoover pointed out that this involves a certain recognition of the Polish Government, and Mr. Lansing replied that such recognition had already been accorded.

5. Mr. Hoover continued by stating that the question of shipments to Riga, Libau and other points in the Baltic provinces was more complicated, but the Livonia problem was very difficult. Mr. Lansing suggested that Mr. Hoover consult Major Dulles who had had large experience in similar cases on the War Trade Board. There was also a difficulty Mr. Hoover declared in shipments to Armenia, but Mr. Lansing pointed out that the Congressional act especially mentioned Armenian relief and therefore contracts could be created without danger.

Mr. Hoover withdrew.

6. Mr. Wilson stated that Major Whitridge51a had just returned from Berlin via Munich and was waiting to see whether the Commission desired to receive him. Mr. Lansing stated they would try to receive him tomorrow.

7. Mr. Wilson presented Memorandum No. 107 concerning the secret agreements which Japan had persuaded certain European powers to sign, pledging their support for Japanese claims in certain islands of the Pacific, and special rights in the province of Shantung. Mr. Lansing stated he already had these documents, and Mr. White requested that it should be ascertained whether these documents had been delivered to him as he had not seen them.

[8.] Mr. Wilson introduced Memorandum No. 108 concerning the proposed portrait of the Commission. Both Mr. Lansing and Mr. White declared that they were not in favor of making a recommendation to the State Department in this matter, and they desired to be informed where the work of these gentlemen who had proposed their services could be seen on exhibition.

9. Mr. Wilson informed the Commissioners that Mr. Grew had consulted Dr. Bliss and Prof. Westermann concerning the question of the reliable American observer to be sent to Syria.

10. Memorandum No. 109 was introduced concerning the telegram to J. L. Barton, and the despatch of this telegram was approved by the Commission.

  1. Reference is apparently to British and French joint declaration quoted in telegram No. 226, November 25, 1918, from the Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Cairo, vol. ii, p. 274.
  2. Of the Italian delegation.
  3. Arnold Whitridge, of the Gherardi Mission to Germany.