Memorandum of Trans-Atlantic Telephone Conversation 61
Mr. Gibson : Hello, Mr. Secretary.
Secretary: Hello, Hugh.
Mr. Gibson : We have just come back from Lausanne where we had a talk with MacDonald and Simon. MacDonald is very much concerned about the situation, because his heart is entirely in our plan and he would like to go along whole-heartedly in support of it, but in view of the far reaching implications of the naval part he feels that he can not come out on his own responsibility without consulting the Cabinet and the Admiralty. He was very insistent that they be given enough time to send Simon to London by airplane to consult the Cabinet and secure their assent. That is the message that we have brought back. We couldn’t get their whole-hearted support. MacDonald does not feel that he can do it all on his own responsibility, and he wanted you to take that into account in connection with his plea for more time.
President: Well now, the President speaking, we are under a difficulty here as usual in a backfire of despatches from Lausanne. A purported indirect discussion with Herriot said that we have offered in effect to trade reparations against disarmament.[Page 198]
Mr. Gibson : That story started from the press here. They have even passed around purported notices from this delegation to say the same thing.
President: That puts us under a great deal of pressure to make that statement at once. I am wondering what harm it would do to make the statement here and to leave it to you to present it a little later in the conference.
Mr. Gibson : I think if we present it at all we should do it simultaneously because there would be no point in presenting it later. Everybody will know it.
President: In the meantime the entire plan will have leaked out through antagonistic publicity and its value will have been destroyed in this country.
Mr. Gibson : What we might do is to make the statement and arrange with the president of the conference to stop publicity and say that the President is very much in favor of presenting it later.
Secretary: That is, to make the statement tomorrow as you proposed?
Mr. Gibson : Yes. What time was the President planning to make it?
Secretary: We got your telegram saying that you could make it at the first moment in the conference at 4:30 tomorrow, which was 10:30 time here, and we were assuming that you would do so. Maybe we can do it before but we hadn’t made definite arrangements until we had the President’s desires. We were assuming that you could do it and the last time the President and I talked he thought it was very important for him to make his statement as soon as possible—either tonight or the first thing tomorrow morning.
Gibson : I hope it won’t be until tomorrow morning because we will lose out on that end of it.
President: We can probably hold it over until tomorrow morning but there is one thing I would like to know at once. These despatches from Lausanne purport to the effect that we would not cancel the debt unless it was traded for disarmament.
Mr. Gibson : It is a pure fabrication.
President: Did you have any discussion at all that might give ground for it?
Mr. Gibson : The provisional effects of that on all countries, but nothing that would give any possible inference that there was an ultimatum on one side or promise on the other.
Secretary: How much of the President’s plan did you give to Herriot?
Mr. Gibson : We gave him no details.[Page 199]
Secretary: You mean you didn’t give him the fractions at all?
Mr. Gibson : We talked to him about all the categories of armaments without giving specific figures.
Secretary: Did you say anything about the percentage of reduction?
Mr. Gibson : We told him there would be no drastic reduction, but in view of the presence of newspaper men there we did not feel that we could in safety give anything specific to him.
Secretary: So they have no details of your plan at all and you have no reason to suppose that they may be informed of it in some other way. Who have you told, nobody but MacDonald and Simon?
Mr. Gibson : It was only today when we discussed it with Simon that the conference was in on it here. He said he was in favor with the general conception and wanted to fit in with it.
President: If he goes to London they will undoubtedly want to make changes in it, and that would embarrass us a great deal because it would destroy the general conception of the plan and the details would come out in discussion. We would rather do that after we have put out the plan.
Secretary: Well now, Gibson, I understood you to say that you might arrange to have the plan presented by you tomorrow and then shut off discussions while it is being considered for a while or while the President is making up his mind. I think that would be preferable. Don’t you think so Mr. President?
President: Yes, by all means. I think that would be the only way we could do it under the circumstances.
Mr. Gibson : We might get them to accord to the general idea. It would lessen their lagging behind but without committing them on the whole in supporting the general idea.
President: I think that is the solution—that if they would say that they were in favor of taking a large and strong action.
Mr. Gibson : I think that we can do that. Of course they couldn’t commit themselves on details but they could approve the general idea.
President: Yes, if they do that, that is enough. I think that is the best way to handle it because the French with their indirect publicity are going to destroy the whole thing, in American minds.
Mr. Davis : Now, there is one thing I can see in not waiting. On the other hand, I just wanted to point out that MacDonald because of the other members (there are three parties in this Cabinet) feels that he has got to consult them, but we expect no opposition from them.[Page 200]
Secretary: I think it is quite clear the President has got to go ahead now. The only way is to hold off and let Gibson make the proposal tomorrow and let him make it to MacDonald if he will.
Mr. Davis : He is taking this as the means of working out the adjournment, perhaps even going so far as to get a resolution from die conference to appoint a committee to draft a treaty embodying these various proposals and meeting back here in six months to consider the treaty. It would mean you would have to wait several days because it would take them all this week because Simon would drive in London tomorrow and he wouldn’t get back here until Saturday.
President: Well, in the meantime it would leak out from London.
Mr. Davis : Now of course they would like very much to go along with us. In the meantime of course if Lausanne reaches an agreement you might feel that you ought to have gone ahead and I really do believe that this question of a united front is getting very much away from us because I don’t believe they are as anxious to do that as they were. I just wanted to put that up to you.
President: Now it does seem to me that we ought to go ahead to protect ourselves, and they could say that they look favorably on our proposal and were prepared to favor it sympathetically.
Mr. Davis : Simon is coming over to see Hugh and me in a few minutes to see whether to go to London or not, and I think we can get him to do that. The point he made was that while we are sticking together on so many things, the Far East and everything else, he feels it is very important for us to show that we are sticking together now.
Secretary: Well now Davis, that can be easily arranged. That is just a matter of a little tact. Just listen a minute. We have absolutely got to do it tomorrow now, having it presented tomorrow and then having merely a general expression of approval made and having them have a short adjournment to express it later. I should think that could be arranged, and that would be the only way it could be done.
President: All that the British need to do is to say that they look on any large action with sympathy and that they are glad to have such a proposal made and give it their honest and favorable consideration. They don’t have to commit themselves to anything in detail.
Mr. Davis : Yes, I think they will do that. We will put it right up to Simon, and unless he raises some very great opposition which we think is important to communicate to you, we better just go ahead.
President: I think so.[Page 201]
Mr. Davis : Just a minute, Hugh Gibson wants to speak to you before you get off.
Mr. Gibson : Mr. Secretary, there is one thing which was brought forward by our naval people as an insert in the naval section of the statement which they think will tend to bring into account other naval powers.
Secretary: Of their proposal? Well you better be careful how you read it on the telephone. Why can’t you telegraph me?
Mr. Gibson : It is only four lines long. It is just an idea. “In view of the sacrifices here proposed it seems evident that the naval powers not already bound by treaty should make corresponding reductions on at least the cruiser class of naval armaments, of a percentage to be determined.” That is so that they can’t raise the difficulties if they go down to these low levels proposed.
Secretary: You mean other than the five powers.
Mr. Gibson : Yes.
Secretary: I see no objection to your making that as a part of your proposition. That is a wholly different thing from what the President says, but I don’t want him to destroy the single and direct force of what he says.
Mr. Gibson : We will put it on the wire to you.
Mr. Gibson : We feel that our suggestion about cruisers should be inserted if you approve.
Secretary: You think you will put it that way rather than the other way? Remember that the other way is the way that is approved here.
Mr. Gibson : Have you received our telegram No. 266?63
Secretary: Yes, I just got it this moment. The President has not yet seen it.
Mr. Gibson : Should we make arrangements to have a meeting at 4:30 tomorrow?
Secretary: Yes, you see, your statement can be a little more full in the matter of these details than would be proper in the case of the President’s statement, and I will try to get you decisions on all of these matters that you brought up.
Mr. Gibson : I will put these on the wire at once to you so that you can see the text of what we have here, and if you don’t approve, the best thing to do is to call on the telephone so that we can get it in shape.