The Chargé in France (Armour) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 19—3:05 p.m.]
116. Department’s 65, February 17, 7 p.m. It has been possible to ascertain informally from the Chef de Cabinet of the Minister of Finance that so far the precise program and scope of the Conference have not been and in the near future probably will not be discussed between the interested governments.
It seems that the formula expressed in the communiqué of February 1314 was very hastily drafted and was not by any means based on a precise understanding of the exact extent to which the matters under reference would be dealt with by the Conference. It has in fact been suggested that a common desire to restore some sort of confidence influenced the somewhat hastily prepared announcement.
Regarding what the French have in mind on the “question of customs duties”, I understand that while anxious to come to an arrangement with Great Britain the French favor a simultaneous examination and agreement on the ensemble of European tariffs possibly taking as a basis the idea of Briand’s European Union. The French appear to consider that as a step towards attaining this end the successful conclusion of negotiations now under way between certain of the Balkan States would be helpful.
However, it was definitely stated at the Ministry of Finance that the British have expressed themselves as not being in favor of a settlement of the tariff question in a general conference but that they prefer individual negotiations. Further that the British have definitely stated that under no circumstances will they be in a position usefully to discuss the tariff question with other powers until after the Imperial Economic Conference which I understand begins on July 18th at Ottawa. In this connection London Times editorial of February 16 emphasizes that Mr. Runciman, at least, and perhaps Mr. Chamberlain, must be expected to be present both at Lausanne and at Ottawa and proceeds to the following interesting statement.
“It becomes essential therefore by preparatory diplomatic work to narrow down the issues to the most easily negotiable proportions. What are the ‘other economic and financial difficulties’ which are causing the world crisis? The present distribution of gold, high tariffs, and the undermining of credit and of confidence are some of them. Are they all to be discussed? And can they usefully be [Page 673]discussed in the absence of a representative of the United States? The Conference is intended in the words of our Paris correspondent to be ‘a purely European affair’ and that indeed would be in the closest accordance with the suggestions of the United States Government as expressed to M. Laval in Washington by President Hoover himself. It is well understood by the British Government at least that war debt repayments are to form no part of the agenda”.15
It is generally believed that the intention is to confine consideration at the forthcoming Conference to the various European and not world-wide problems.
The French Government appears to consider that no useful preliminary negotiations or conversations could take place with respect to the problems with which the Conference will be faced already there [until?] after the French and German elections. For this purpose it considers that about a month would be available. However it does not appear to entertain the hope that the Conference could possibly accomplish before the month of July, much more than decide, what is to be done regarding the annuities due from Germany after July 1st.