The Acting Secretary of State to the British Senior Delegate to the Washington Conference on Communications (Brown)

My Dear Mr. Brown: I have your letter of December seventh regarding the controversy over the disposition of the ex-German cables, with an explanation of your attitude regarding further attendance at the discussions relating to this question. I must confess that your letter was read with some surprise.

I have been most appreciative of your earnest efforts for a settlement in submitting numerous schemes of compromise for the purpose of effecting an understanding between the various delegations. I am extremely sorry that press publications, for which, as I have already explained to you, this Government was not responsible, should have in any way misrepresented the position taken during the discussion of this matter by the British delegation. I fully appreciate your feeling that the major difficulties in the way of an expeditious settlement have perhaps arisen from the position heretofore taken by the French and Japanese delegations. On the other hand, it must be obvious that the proposed conditional settlement in respect to the Halifax–Penzance cable would not in itself accord to the United States the full restoration of the pre-war service enjoyed by it, nor the undivided ownership of any one of the ex-German cables. It would, at best, merely provide for a partial satisfaction of the United States in securing a return of pre-war service and the right to purchase or lease from the British Government the restored cable. I quite appreciate your desire to make definitive as between Great Britain and the United States the provisional settlement in respect to this cable. You must, however, understand our reluctance to do this because it would in effect allocate to Great Britain the sole ownership of this cable, and leave to the United States a controversy with the other interested powers over the other ex-German cables. It would merely give to the United States the right to purchase or lease your cable by giving in exchange therefor [Page 144] a transfer of, or lease on, an American privately owned cable between Great Britain and Canada.

While I believe I fully understand your desire thus to disassociate yourself from the controversy regarding the other cables, I do not understand how your interest and responsibility in the general settlement can be so easily discharged. Our tentative understanding in regard to the Halifax–Penzance cable was entirely contingent upon reaching a satisfactory agreement for the division and operation of the other cables, and it was hoped that such an agreement between us would facilitate agreements in respect to the entire question. I cannot but feel, therefore, that your responsibility for bringing about an equitable and practical solution of this entire question is at least equal to that of any other power concerned.

In the early stages of this Conference you stated that by a gentleman’s agreement with France, made before the entry of the United States into the war, the British delegation felt at least a moral obligation to support the French claims. I need not restate in detail my views as to the validity of any such understanding which must or should have been automatically cancelled by the subsequent entrance of the United States into the war and its prosecution thereof in association with the Allies.

I have several times expressed to you my belief that this former understanding undoubtedly has encouraged the French delegation to maintain its claim to the operation and ownership of a proportion of the cables far exceeding the amount attributable to France on what I believe you agree with me would be a reasonable distribution. I have also expressed to you the opinion that in order to reach an equitable and satisfactory general agreement it would be necessary for you to inform the French delegation either that the British Government considers it has been released from any moral obligation, or at least that it could not support the French claims as at present maintained. I must frankly state my belief that the general necessity of reaching a settlement, according reasonable satisfaction to rights and interests of each of the five powers, and in particular the circumstances resulting from the commitments above referred to, place upon the British delegation a responsibility to participate actively and along the lines indicated above in effecting a general agreement.

I shall write you further as regards your statements of the injustice felt that no attempt of substantiation has been forthcoming with respect to suggestions of interference by the British Government with telegrams passing through Great Britain.22

I am [etc.]

Norman H. Davis