The Acting Chairman of the American Delegation (Gibson) to the Secretary of State
[Received 7:55 p.m.]
278. For the President and Secretary. MacDonald sent word yesterday through his secretary that he was anxious to have a talk with Davis and me today and he suggested we meet elsewhere than at Lausanne as he wished to avoid public knowledge of our meeting. It was accordingly arranged for him to come alone to lunch at my house today with Davis and me. [He] particularly requested that no mention be made of this meeting.
MacDonald began by saying that he was greatly troubled by the present situation and wanted our advice as to the course the British Government should pursue as to the next step to be taken in regard to the President’s proposal and what he should do about it.
He said that Simon had gone back to London informing him that “he had been called by duties in the Foreign Office” and it was only after his return to London that the American plan was brought up at a meeting of the Cabinet called on Friday to discuss Indian questions. No agreement was reached and a special meeting was called for tomorrow, Monday, to discuss the American proposals. He was [Page 238]troubled at having this meeting take place in his absence and had advised Baldwin that had he known that this was to be dealt with by the Cabinet he would have flown back to London for a meeting yesterday and returned by air today to resume his work in Lausanne tomorrow.
Simon had told me he felt it was essential that the British Government should make some statement of its position immediately or at the latest before the General Commission by Wednesday next with a simultaneous and identic statement in the House of Commons. MacDonald wanted our opinion as to whether from the American point of view it was essential that there be a further British statement at this time. We told him that in view of Simon’s first speech and the subsequent exchange of telegrams with the Secretary we could see no necessity for a further British statement until a number of other delegations had expressed their views in the General Commission. MacDonald had not heard of the exchange of telegrams between Simon and the Secretary and expressed some surprise that these should have been released to the press without his being informed by Simon.
He then said he was concerned about having momentous decisions taken by the Cabinet in his absence and that he had written Baldwin of his views in detail.
He was troubled by the warm feeling that had been aroused against the naval section of the President’s plan; there was considerable adverse sentiment in the House of Commons “the Admiralty was wild” and if the matter was pressed to a conclusion in the Cabinet at this time there would be a majority against him; curiously enough the most acute antagonism was found among the Liberals and if he pressed for an immediate decision of the sort he would like, it would probably provoke resignations. Before Simon left the Prime Minister told him in very definite terms that “nothing must be done to jeopardize his working in good understanding with the United States” and that if the present good understanding was impaired “his (MacDonald’s) usefulness would be ended”.
He then brought up anew the three-power conversations and expressed dissatisfaction with the way these had been handled in that they had not been broadened as he and Mr. Stimson had anticipated to include Germany and Italy; in the second place that they had not been directed to the big political problems that lay athwart the work of the Conference; and in the third place that the detailed examinations of points on the agenda had been reported to other delegations as “agreements” which would be brought into the General Commission. We were in full agreement on these points and agreed that the [Page 239]discussions if continued should be broadened to include at least the other two powers. We raised the question of a minimum program of accomplishment and gave him the substance of the second and third paragraphs of your 151.7 He expressed entire agreement and recognized that now the President’s plan is before the Conference it should not be set aside. He said that if the conversations continued they should be directed to bringing the French and Germans together in an effort to reach an agreement between them as to how the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty could be transferred to the new treaty and to bringing the French and Italians together on the naval question.
He said he was particularly anxious to have our views as to what he should do next. We said that so far as the American standpoint was concerned we could see no necessity for an immediate further statement of the British position but that he might feel that it was wise to ask for the views of the Cabinet for his own guidance and withhold final decision and further statements until he and the other six Cabinet ministers, who will be here, have a chance to talk with us and then take the matter up with the Cabinet on his return to London. He said that was exactly the way his mind was working and was what he would try to do. As it seems evident that Simon’s personal feeling was largely based on the secondary part he had been called on to play we felt it essential to see that MacDonald understood the reasons which had obliged the President to make his statement when he did and he said he quite understood. Furthermore, we told him that matters might have been in a different position if we had been told more clearly where they stood in regard to their general plan; that as he knew we had been confidentially but officially informed that they were coming here with a comprehensive plan and that we would be fully informed on their arrival; that we had repeatedly broached the subject to Simon but had not succeeded in eliciting his confidence and that the only conclusion we were able to reach was that the idea of a general plan had been abandoned by the British Cabinet; for that reason there remained nothing to cause the President to withhold independent action. We gather that this had not been made clear to him by Simon.
In summing up he said that he knew no difficulty as to those portions of the President’s plan relating to land and air and that even as regards naval affairs he was sure we could reach a satisfactory solution with time and patience; that in some respects they were prepared to go further than the President had suggested and that in others it might be found possible to reach adjustments which would [Page 240]enable us to attain approximately the same results though not in exactly the same way, that in any event he needed some time to bring the Admiralty into line and that as nobody knew better the complexity of these problems than the President and himself he was confident the President would recognize the difficulties of his position.
In discussing further procedure he stated on leaving that he was hopeful of winding up in Lausanne this week that he now had the Germans and French negotiating directly (although the chief difficulty now seemed to be more between Herriot and his Minister of Finance8 than between Herriot and the Germans) and that once he had this problem off his hands he would like to come to Geneva and devote himself to finding some way of making a go of this Conference.