741.91/4: Telegram

The Ambassador in Great Britain (Davis) to the Secretary of State

3039. Following letter received September 12th from Lord Curzon.11

“You will remember that on August 18 I asked you to favor me with a visit at the Foreign Office in order that I might acquaint you with the recent conclusion of an agreement between the British and Persian Government. I informed Your Excellency that your Government had not been kept in entire ignorance of the matter because when I was in Paris some time ago I had called upon Colonel House especially to mention to him the nature of the negotiations in which I was engaged, and I had asked him to inform President Wilson on the matter so that the President might be guided in his attitude towards the Persian delegation at Paris should their claim to be heard at the Peace Conference be entertained. That Colonel House undertook this mission is certain because at a later date in London he informed me that he had carried it out and had informed the President of what I had said.

No hint of doubt or disapproval was conveyed to me, and I have ever since remained under the impression that the agreement was one which would meet with the cordial approval of your Government and country. This impression was more than confirmed by our interview on August 18. On that occasion I mentioned to you that the French, vexed as I believed at the failure which had so far attended their efforts in Syria, had assumed a hostile attitude [Page 709] to the agreement at Teheran which their Minister was doing his best to disparage, and I said that I thought it not unusual that he would endeavor to enlist the cooperation of his American colleague in pursuing this policy. In these circumstances, and assuming, as I think I was entitled to do, that your Government would be, generally speaking, in favor of the agreement, I asked Your Excellency whether you could see your way to suggest that the American Minister at Teheran should be advised to facilitate the acceptance of the agreement and to give it his blessing.

You very readily and courteously consented to take this step and you further told me that you thought the agreement a good one; better, indeed, for Persia than it was for Great Britain.

As my reports from Teheran led me to doubt whether the American Minister could have taken action during the last few days [I] sought more than once for an opportunity of seeing Your Excellency in order to ascertain what reply your Government had returned to your representations. Your absence from town has, however, unfortunately prevented me from seeing you and now I am obliged to take my own departure. In these circumstances I venture to write this letter.

The cause for doing so is rendered much more urgent by information which has reached me only this morning by wire from Teheran. It appears that on the night of September 9, the American Minister, without any communication to the Persian Prime Minister or the Persian Government, addressed the following communiqué in the three vernacular papers and simultaneously through the agency [of?] the native staff of the Legation distributed a great number of typed copies throughout the city:

‘In view of misrepresentations contained in an article published in Raad of August 19 last with reference to attitude of President Wilson, American Peace Mission and of America towards Persia, it is thought proper to submit herewith a communique just received from United States (State Department?) at Washington: To American Legation Teheran.

The United States Government instructs you to please deny to Persian officials and to any other Persians or persons who may be interested, that United States has refused to aid Persia. America has uniformly shown [her] interest in welfare of Persia in many ways.
The American members of the Peace Commission at Paris often tried to obtain a hearing for Persian delegates before the Peace Conference and American Commission was surprised that it did not receive more aid and support in its endeavor, but announcement of new treaty probably explains the reason why the Americans were unable to get such a hearing for Persian delegates.
It also appears that Persian Government at Teheran lent no strong support to efforts of its delegates sent to Paris. The American Government is surprised to learn of the recent Anglo-Persian treaty which would seem to indicate that Persia does not wish America’s aid or support hereafter, and this in spite of the well known fact that Persian Peace Commission at Paris openly and urgently sought American aid and assistance’.

I have of course no responsibility for what may have appeared in the Raad newspaper nor have I any right to object to the United States Government or its representative seeking to correct newspaper misrepresentation. But in view of the facts which I have before stated to Your Excellency and have repeated in this letter, I find considerable difficulty in understanding the passage about the surprise of the United States Government at learning of the agreement, while I may be pardoned if I point out that such action taken without [Page 710] warning or notice by the Minister of a great and friendly power at the Persian capital, while hardly in accord with the ordinary forms of diplomatic procedure, would undoubtedly be regarded locally, and indeed was regarded, as a challenge to the Anglo-Persian agreement of an unfriendly and almost a hostile character.

That such can have been the intention of the American Government I am free [loath?], in view of what Your Excellency said to me, to believe. Nor can I discover anything in the agreement itself to justify an attitude of suspicion on the part of any friend of Persia. Indeed, the agreement possesses a striking resemblance in many particulars to that which the American Government have lately been negotiating with the Liberian Government as the best friend of Liberia. This agreement provides for an American credit of $5,000,000 for the administration by the Americans of the customs and inland revenue of Liberia, for a similar administration by American citizens of the Liberian hinterland, and for the creation of a military police under American officers, provisions which postulate a far greater control, both political and economic, over the fortunes of Liberia than any that is even remotely suggested by the Anglo-Persian agreement, notwithstanding that the latter is justified by the additional arguments of [sic] growing out of contiguity to the Indian Empire of Great Britain and of the enormous expense to which Great Britain has been put in sustaining the interests of the Allies in Persia during the war, and in upholding the Government of that country. His Majesty’s Government, in deference to the urgent request of the American Government, not only assented to the American proposals with regard to Liberia but even deferred to the strongly expressed American desire that they should not be referred to the Council of the League of Nations for approval.

In these circumstances I cannot help thinking that there must still be some misunderstanding which it is desirable to clear up. I should hope that by now instructions may have reached the American Minister at Teheran to act in the spirit to which Your Excellency had given your ready adhesion and as regards the regrettable incident to which I have called attention in this letter, I would venture to express the further hope that Your Excellency’s Government may see their way without delay to inform the Persian Government and the Persian press that the communique to which I have referred was intended not to cast any aspersion on the Anglo-Persian agreement, which is designed in the best interests of Persia, but only to refute any misapprehension caused by the article in the Raad. It would indeed be a misfortune if at this turning point in the fortunes of Persia grounds were given for the suspicion that the great powers whose joint exertions and sacrifices have won the war were divided in their conceptions of Persian policy and if that country were thrown back into the vortex of international jealousy and competition from which it has suffered so sorely in the past. Curzon.”

To which I have today replied as follows:

“I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship’s communication of September 11 and regret that my absence on yesterday and the day before debarred me from the pleasure of a personal interview. While the particular incident to which your letter refers now [Page 711] comes to my notice for the first time, the general subject is one which I have desired to discuss with you in a personal interview, but for this, by reason first of your absence and then of my own, no opportunity has offered, notwithstanding my efforts to that end.

I shall of course communicate the sense of your letter to my Government without delay as I did the request which you have made at our interview of the 18th. Prior to that meeting, my only knowledge touching the Anglo–Persian agreement had been gathered from the public announcement of its conclusion made some three days earlier, and it is perhaps unfortunate therefore that you gathered from our conversation any impression as to the attitude of my Government, of which I was then unaware. But I should tell you that upon communicating with Washington, I learned that neither the President nor the Secretary of State were favorably impressed by what they conceived to be the secrecy with which the agreement was negotiated, and felt that there had been some lack of frankness in the matter more especially as the presence of the Persian delegation in Paris seemed to offer numerous occasions for a full statement of the intentions and purposes of the British Government in the premises, and that they were therefore indisposed to take the responsibility of any steps which would indicate their approval of the treaty thus negotiated.

Upon receipt of this information I put myself in touch with Colonel House, repeating to him the conversation at Paris between him and yourself as you had detailed it to me. His recollection confirms your own as to the fact that you presented to him the inadvisability of receiving before the Conference the Persian delegation, representing that the subject of Persia should be otherwise dealt with,—all of which he repeated to the President. But unfortunately he cannot recall any allusion to the contents or character of the instant treaty or to the intention to negotiate an engagement of this sort and is thus unable to dispel the feeling of surprise which the President and Secretary entertain.

I welcome Your Lordship’s letter, therefore, as affording an opportunity to clarify the situation and remove any misunderstanding which may exist.”

Before transmitting this reply I submitted it to Colonel House, who confirms the accuracy of that portion relating to himself. Have also discussed subject with Lord Grey, who tells me he has advised Foreign Office to give out explanatory statement specifically announcing, among other things, intention to submit any customs changes to nations affected for their criticism.

  1. British Acting Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs during the absence of Mr. Balfour.