462.00 R 29/2984a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Belgium ( Fletcher )

57. The Belgian Chargé came to see me on Thursday morning, August 16, to ask whether I would be willing to express any views on the subject of the very serious situation which had developed in connection with the Ruhr occupation and the correspondence between Great Britain, Belgium and France. He said that his Government would appreciate any suggestions I might feel free to make, as the position of Belgium was extremely difficult and they were very desirous to obtain a settlement of pending questions.

I told him that I did not wish to make any official statement on behalf of the United States Government at this time, since the parties directly concerned were in correspondence and since no communication had been addressed to this Government requiring its reply. I said, however, that I might say in a personal and unofficial way that this Government viewed the situation with deep concern and earnestly hoped a solution would be found. I told him also that I would speak frankly with respect to my personal views. I said it should be understood by the European Governments that it was idle to attempt, so far as the United States was concerned, to connect the reparation settlement and debts owing to this country. I pointed out that these debts were not within the control of the Executive but of Congress and that Congress would be governed by the dominant public sentiment. I said that there was not the slightest ground for expecting that there would be any diminution whatever in the British debt, which had been funded and further that the American people were not disposed to cancel the debts owing by the continental countries; that the [Page 67] people here were not disposed to forego their claims in order to facilitate the support of armies and armament in Europe, nor would this Government countenance an arrangement which would be in effect the placing upon our people of the burden of the German indemnity. I said that we regarded the reparation question as distinct from that of the debts. If France were not indebted to the United States, the question of how much Germany could pay, the terms of payment and the matter of securing payment would still be the same. I said that if the reparation question were settled and the peoples of Europe reduced their armaments and set themselves determinedly to establish conditions of peace and stability, it was my opinion that the American people would be disposed to deal generously with the question of debts in the light of the actual condition of the debtors. I said that the immediate question for Europe was the settlement of reparations and that I believed the Belgian Government was in the best position to bring about an accord upon this question. Belgium could hardly escape the injurious consequences if there were disorder and revolution in Germany. On the other hand, the Belgians were the faithful allies of France and understood conditions in England. I said further that I thought this to be a favorable moment. It might be said that until recently the Germans had not shown a willingness to pay, but in the future there might be conditions in Germany which would make impossible any arrangements for payment.

I said I did not consider the reparations question insoluble. Apparently France wanted 26 milliard gold marks, Belgium 5, Great Britain 14 and to this total of 45 there might be small amounts added for other countries. There did not seem to be any insuperable difficulty in determining the amount which Germany could pay. The opinions of experts would not differ very widely on this question. I said also that I thought it should be possible to arrange for the terms of payment and guarantees by pledging the available resources of Germany under some approved supervision, probably of an international character, to insure that the payments were made.

As to the question of frontier security, Poincaré had stated that this did not enter into the reparations settlement, but, assuming that it was a question to be dealt with, France should make a definite and reasonable proposal as to what she wanted. I said that I thought it was a mistake to insist on the termination of passive resistance as a condition precedent to direct discussion. It might well be that a German Government could not stand which would abandon resistance without any assurance of any terms of settlement. I told him that I thought it was unfortunate in a practical discussion to interpose preliminary conditions of a practically impossible character. [Page 68] I added that I did not think that the results would be secured by public demands for surrender of any of the parties. It ought, on the other hand, to be possible to arrange quietly a basis of agreement as to the amounts of payment and terms of payment and security. When a substantial accord had been reached privately upon these points, the German Government could announce that passive resistance was withdrawn, the French immediately could announce that, in view of this, the military occupation of the Ruhr would be ended and the underlying accord could be made public. I said the situation was too serious to neglect any practicable measures to secure an agreement.

The Chargé said that he wished to telegraph what I had said to his Government and asked permission to return in the afternoon to show me the draft of his message. I said that I should be glad to see it, understanding that what I said was said personally and informally.

In the afternoon M. de Warzée showed me a telegram to his Government, embodying a summary of my statements. It was somewhat briefer than the above but correct in substance and I consented to its transmission.