551.A1/1: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Wallace) to the Acting Secretary of State


773. R-444 for Davis.62

  • 1st. At informal conference of delegates March 19 Poincare confidentially informed me of unofficial talk he had had with Bonin and Balfour regarding proposed calling of Conference by financial section of League of Nations, the object being to discuss economic and financial situation of world but without power to make decisions whose report would be either transmitted direct to the Governments or through Council of the League of Nations either with or without proposals. Invitation to attend Conference was to be addressed to South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Spain, United States, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Argentine, Portugal, Roumania, Great Britain, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and possibly other countries. Poincaré pointed out that undoubtedly German and Austrian economic and financial situation would be examined and that Reparation Commission under the treaty was vested with power in regard to Germany and Austria. He pointed out that neutral countries might be considered as bound by treaty if they joined League of Nations. He dwelt upon probability of proposed conference wherein neutrals were represented taking different views in regard to Germany and Austria than might be taken by Reparation Commission. It had been suggested that Conference might ask advice Reparation Commission as to requirements and assets of Germany and not go into details of figures furnished by Reparation Commission. He pointed out two objections: (a) that Reparation Commission had until May 1922 to determine regarding Germany and could not be hurried in its work; (b) that if inquiry was made by both bodies there would be a great duplication of work and possibly divergence in views as above stated. He suggested that modus operandi should be found to regulate unofficial relations between the Reparation Commission and Council. The [Page 89] chairman’s own opinion was that it would be difficult for Conference to work without trespassing on functions of Reparation Commission and he suggested that contact should be maintained unofficially through chairmen of respective bodies.
  • 2d. Delegates were then asked to express their opinions informally, it being understood that they did not bind their Governments and that they were at liberty to change their first impressions as stated on further consideration. Belgians favored unofficial contact as suggested. Pointed out that Conference would probably make recommendations which would not be agreeable to Reparation Commission and suggested it might be possible to at least limit agenda for first meeting of Conference by excluding consideration of German position in order to prevent conflicts between Conference and Reparation Commission. Italians pointed out it would be difficult to establish unofficial relations, that there was no possibility of cooperation and that it would be a mistake for Reparation Commission to undertake any work for proposed council. British stated the Governments having decided on experiment calling Conference, it was impossible for Reparation Commission to do anything until result of experiment was ascertained. The Conference would examine financial and economic clauses of treaty and that examination must be free and full if any useful purpose was to be obtained. Felt that Reparation Commission should not take part in examination or attempt to control it; that if such examination was to take place it would have reflex action on policy of Reparation Commission and would make it advisable to expedite work of Commission vis à vis Germany. I stated my position was difficult as United States was not a member of League of Nations nor officially represented on Reparation Commission and that I was not informed of the construction which my Government put upon the clauses of the treaty under which it was proposed to call the International Conference and therefore could only give my first personal impressions. Felt that this action as well as the fact that attempts of bodies or government offices to deal with matters covered by reparation clauses of treaty should be regarded as handwriting on wall inevitably pointing to disappearance of Reparation Commission as factor under the treaty if it did not make progress on sound and economic solution of problems with which it was charged 5 that it would only be possible to work out reparation provisions of the treaty by fixing Germany’s obligation for reparations at a definite amount and that before that was done agreement should be reached between powers concerned as to their proportionate share in amount of reparations to be paid by Germany. I had understood some months ago, considerable progress had been made regarding fixing of percentages but of late had heard nothing of matter.
  • 3d. It was agreed to delay matter for one week in order to give delegates opportunity to present matter to their respective Governments and receive their views and instructions. I trust it will be possible for you to send instructions on this subject at once.

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  • Rathbone63
  • Wallace
  1. Norman H. Davis, Assistant Secretary, U. S. Treasury, from Nov. 1919 to June 1920; assumed duties as Under Secretary of State, June 15, 1920.
  2. Albert Rathbone, Assistant Secretary, U. S. Treasury, in Europe to handle matters relating to reparations; unofficial representative on the Reparation Commission.