462.00 R 29/3459

Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Fletcher) of a Conversation between the Secretary of State and the British and French Ambassadors (Geddes, Jusserand), April 25, 1921

The British and French Ambassadors happening in at the Department at the same time this afternoon, the Secretary showed to them telegrams number 443 and 445, containing the text of the German reparation proposals. The Secretary made it clear at the outset that he was not communicating these proposals in any formal manner; that he was merely giving them informally an opportunity to examine the proposals, and that it was understood that it was not in any way the action of the United States Government. To this they both assented. The Secretary explained that his whole object in this matter had been to be helpful, and that if these proposals, upon examination by their governments, were found to be unacceptable they would not find the United States athwart their path. If, on the other hand, they found them acceptable or found them to contain a basis of negotiation which they wished to consider, he would then, upon an indication to this effect, be glad to transmit them formally.

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The Secretary stated, however, that if he were asked to express informally a personal opinion he would say that if the Allied Governments were convinced that no proposals which might be put forward by Germany were worthy of consideration, that no credit could be given to any statements made by Germany, and that Germany did not intend to pay; or if the Allied Governments preferred an economically prostrate Germany which would be unable to pay any considerable amount in reparation, it was, of course, idle to discuss any proposals whatever. The Secretary thought that that would be a counsel of despair, fraught with injury to France and all the world.

The French Ambassador at once disclaimed any such attitude on the part of his Government. The Secretary then said that if the purpose were entertained to compel Germany to pay to the utmost of her ability and to conduct negotiations for that purpose, then the question would arise, as in every case of negotiations, when the psychological moment had been reached which gave to the Allied Powers the utmost advantage; that it would be a serious thing to press to the point where Germany should succumb to a feeling of pessimism. The Secretary said that he would not profess to have a judgment upon the question as to the amount which Germany should pay; that that was a question for expert economists; that he was completely of the view that Germany should be compelled to pay to the utmost of her capacity; but that it was also important that the question of reparations should be settled and that the world should have the advantage of the productive power of Germany; this would be to the advantage of France as well as to the other Powers. The Secretary said that the present question was not whether Germany’s offer, in the terms in which it was made, was acceptable. The British Ambassador broke in to say that the question was simply whether it should be transmitted. The Secretary said that the question was whether the Allied Powers were willing to receive it, with the view that it would furnish a basis for discussion; whether a point had been reached that it was better to take the proposal as a basis for further negotiations to the end that the unacceptable conditions should be eliminated, and further concessions obtained. The Secretary said that the occupation could be resorted to later if nothing satisfactory came out of the renewed negotiations, but that the consequences of the complete repudiation of the proposals and the occupation could not easily be foreseen. The French Ambassador said that the attitude of France could not be understood except by remembering that the French people had been flayed and that they felt accordingly. The Secretary said that this feeling of the French people was fully understood; there was deep sympathy with it but that the situation called for that lucidity of treatment and appreciation [Page 50] of the actual facts which the French people were peculiarly able to give.

At the conclusion of the interview, the Secretary said that it was important that he should be advised at the earliest possible moment with respect to the attitude of the Allied Powers; that he did not wish the matter to remain open for conjecture on the part of the public any longer than was necessary; that he desired that the Ambassadors, in communicating with their governments, should make it very clear that the Secretary was not transmitting these proposals; that it was the desire of this Government simply to be helpful in obtaining a just solution of a very pressing problem. The French Ambassador acquiesced, and the British Ambassador said the final word that they understood the Secretary’s position perfectly and would safeguard it in whatever was done.