462.00 R 29/42: Telegram

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

493. R–330 for Davis. Department’s 356 February 14, 4 p.m., your R–227.

Form of letter sent to Germans regarding Dutch ships set forth the [in] paragraph 3d my R–25761 was drafted on theory that Commission did not desire to finally prejudge question without first giving opportunity to Germany, Holland and alleged Dutch purchasers to be heard. This procedure was adopted largely on my argument that Reparation Commission should not make decisions until interested parties were heard. It was designed to maintain statu[s] quo until Commission could consider matter and give hearings to interested parties if they desired.
As stated in my R–29962 and in paragraph 11 of my R–30961 information having been received that one of ships had sailed and arrived at Dutch port, it was decided to summon German representative and ask for examination [explanation] of action of German Government in view of notification from Reparation Commission previously given. Again my advice on subject was followed instead of some action by Reparation Commission which would have amounted to a prejudgment in case without hearing of parties in interest.
Explanation given by representative of German Government was not very satisfactory. He did not know facts and intimated that German Government might have permitted sailing of the vessel in question before it had received notification from Reparation Commission or that vessel might have sailed secretly as in fact it had departed at night. He also claimed that if Germany prevented sailing of vessel it might be construed as an unfriendly act by Holland. He gave no assurance as to remaining four vessels but stated that he would communicate with German Government. At request [Page 363] of German representative decision of Reparation Commission on subject was embodied in letter of which copy is set forth in paragraph 4 of this cable.
The Reparation Commission has the honor to confirm to the purpose [Chairman] of the German Delegation the statement made to Herr Bergmann at its meeting today. The Reparation Commission wish[es] to know under what conditions the vessel Johann Heinrick Burchard (Limburgia) put to sea, and in particular whether this vessel left without obtaining clearance papers. The statement [Reparation Commission] requests that the German Government will take all measures necessary to prevent the other four vessels mentioned in the letter of the 31st January 1920 from leaving their present ports. The vessel [Reparation] Commission requests, in particular, that the German Government will undertake not to give their clearance papers to the vessels in question and if these vessels should attempt to put to sea without papers to take the same measures to stop them which would ordinarily be taken in the case of vessels attempting to leave without their papers. If the German Government does not comply with these requests and in particular if pending the receipt of a reply to this letter, the German Government should permit clearance papers to be granted to any of the vessels in question or fail to take the necessary steps to prevent them sailing without papers, the Reparation Commission will find itself obliged to inform the Allied and Associated Powers that Germany is wilfully evading her obligations under the treaty of peace. As soon as the Reparation Commission is in possession of the assurance which it asks from the German Government it will take steps to settle, as soon as possible, the question of the ownership of these vessels after hearing all the parties concerned.
I note view of United States that bona fide transfers of belligerent merchant vessels to neutrals in time of war are pending [valid] and will take care in due course that this view of America is maintained by unofficial representation to Reparation [Commission].
Legal counsel are considering whether it is possible for Germany to obtain title by requisition to vessels remaining in Germany. Obviously such measures could not be adopted in case where vessels have reached Dutch ports.
Referring to your paragraph fourth. One can of course make assertion to Commission that in view of fact America has not ratified treaty that it will take no part in discussion or decision regarding these vessels claimed to have been sold to Dutch nationals. The difficulty that I see in that course is that a similar course could be taken regarding most of the questions that come before Reparation Commission. It would, in my judgment, very much weaken [Page 364] position of obligation to unofficial representative and do away with influence which has been exerted toward fair and just methods of procedure and sound economic principles. Moreover, if our participation is to be confined exclusively to matters in which America has the direct and not indirect interest, it will weaken our position as to questions in which we are directly interested. If functions of American representative are to be so limited in all cases his duties and responsibilities will be much reduced.

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  • Rathbone
  • Wallace
  1. Not printed.
  2. Ante, p. 360.
  3. Not printed.