The Secretary of State to the French Ambassador (Claudel)

Aide-Mémoire 68

The calling of the Conference of the Governments to be held on January 18th and the rumors which have been current concerning whether we would participate or not in such conference, make it seem advisable for me to have this talk with the Ambassador and to make clear our position again, although I assume that from our conference last October M. Laval fully understands the situation.69

At the time of M. Laval’s discussions with President Hoover we pointed out that any question of Germany’s capacity to pay reparations at the close of this year’s suspension on July 1st next must be brought up and determined by the governments which participate in those reparations. The United States do not participate and would not enter that question. This was pointed out in the Joint Communiqué70 which provided that the initiative in this matter must be taken by the European Powers.

The meeting of the experts which has just taken place at Basle71 and the meeting of the governments which is now called for January 18th to act upon the experts’ report together constitute this step above mentioned of determining what shall be done in respect to reparations. And pursuant to our policy of the past ten years and the position which Mr. Hoover took in October, we shall not participate in the conference.

The attitude shown at the meeting of the American Congress in December simply confirms Mr. Hoover’s foresight in insisting upon this procedure and indicates that this is the only possible route by which the people of this country could ever come to understand the necessity of any further help in Europe. Only after the extent of Germany’s capacity or incapacity to pay has been fairly determined and the manner and extent in which the resulting sacrifice will be [Page 637]borne by the nations who are entitled to receive reparations is also determined, would it be possible to bring such a question before the people of this country with anything but a certainty of failure. Then and only then could it be proposed that the situation of each of the nations which have obligations to the United States be examined individually in the light of the present temporary depression and the then existing international situation both as regards themselves and as regards the United States.

The historic attitude of this country in keeping the question of the debts owed to it by the Allied nations entirely separate from the reparations owed by Germany is not based upon caprice or selfishness. Having at the close of the war relinquished to its Allies all claims to any participation in war reparations, whether in territory or money, this country was unwilling thereafter to permit itself to be drawn into a situation which would inevitably result in it being represented as the recipient of such reparations. Under these circumstances it is only natural that any method of relief to Germany which on its face would show the American taxpayers to be paying German reparations would have no possibility of acceptance here.

  1. Handed to the French Chargé, Pierre Henry de la Blanchetai. Copies were also sent to the British, German, and Italian Embassies; and to the American Embassies in Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Italy.
  2. For correspondence relating to the visit of Pierre Laval to the United States in October 1931, see Foreign Relations, 1931, vol. ii, pp. 237 ff.
  3. Issued by President Hoover and Prime Minister Laval, October 25, 1931, ibid., p. 252.
  4. Meeting of the Young Plan Advisory Committee December 8–23, 1931; see ibid., vol. i, pp. 332 ff; for text of experts’ report, see Great Britain, Cmd. 3995, Germany No. 1 (1932): Report of the Special Advisory Committee convened under the Agreement with Germany concluded at The Hague on January 30, 1930.