882.01 Foreign Control/488: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Consul at Geneva (Gilbert)

14. For Reber. Your telegram No. 32 is very disappointing. It shows an approach to the problem so different from our own that we are very seriously concerned as to its effects upon future cooperation. Liberia has passed and carried into effect legislation which amounts to a unilateral denunciation of a legitimate contract with the Firestone interests. The feeling has been reported from Monrovia that Liberia took this action in the belief, which we have refused to credit, that the League Committee would condone such a course. Nevertheless the proposed message, to which I must assume you have given no indication of approval, [Page 895] not only would lend color to these claims allegedly advanced in Monrovia that Liberia could repudiate its American obligations and obtain “protection” in Geneva, but it also seems to deflect the situation from its essentials.

The Committee is apparently endeavoring on the one hand to avoid an expression of disapproval of Liberia’s actions, and on the other to convert a Firestone statement which was intended to define to the Committee the Company’s position after the withdrawal of the objectionable Liberian legislation, into an offer to Liberia of a Firestone concession in exchange for Liberian withdrawal of illegal actions. Moreover, the last paragraph of the proposed draft is almost equally objectionable. There is no “new situation” whatever, except as induced by illegal Liberian acts, and this Government does not seek “suspension” of these acts, but their removal. We do not request the cancellation of these confiscatory steps taken by the Liberian Government as a favor or as a bargain; we demand it as a juridical right based upon the general principles of equity and justice prevailing among nations, and unless the Committee of the League approaches the problem from this fundamental viewpoint we frankly cannot look forward to future cooperation with them with much hopefulness.

This is not a question of a dispute in which the American Government is jockeying for position. It is a far more serious problem, wherein the American Government, while fully protecting American interests, is endeavoring to maintain cooperation with the International Committee by persuading it to join in bringing pressure to bear on Liberia to respect her signed obligations as a necessary preliminary to further progress. Until this is done and Liberia has retraced her steps to the position before December 17, the Firestone interests cannot enter into negotiations. In this they are supported by the American Government. I am therefore unwilling to submit to the Finance Corporation the draft contained in your telegram No. 32, or to ask them to make any further concessions than those they have already agreed to with me which were designed solely to convince Cecil and the Committee of the bona fides of their cooperation.

You may if necessary explain the foregoing with entire frankness to Cecil or use it as a basis for a formal statement to be made to the Committee. This message taken in connection with my personal telegram to Cecil yesterday29 should make my position clear to you.

I suggest that you talk over with Wilson the procedure best calculated to persuade the Committee to approach the problem from a point of view based on the sanctity of contracts and the realities of international cooperation.

  1. See telegram No. 61, January 31, 4 p.m., to the Minister in Switzerland, p. 892.