882.01 Foreign Control/504: Telegram

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

17. For Reber. Your telegram No. 39, February 3, 7 p.m. If the attitude of the Committee remains as you reported, the prospect of the usefulness of future attempts to seek a solution of the Liberian problem by international action seems frankly discouraging. I feel that the time has come when we must make our point of view a matter of record: you should accordingly write a letter to Viscount Cecil, in reply to his aide-mémoire of yesterday, along the following lines:

  • “1. It is difficult for the American Government to see how the Committee can view the situation brought about by Liberia’s unilateral destruction of the Finance Corporation contract as representing merely a dispute between Liberia and the Firestone interests, or as having only a remote connection with the realization of the plan of assistance.
  • “2. While the Committee must obviously be the judge of its own terms of reference, the invitation addressed to the American Government by the Acting Secretary General of the League on January 30, 1931, contained the following sentence: The Committee might among other [Page 898] matters examine the question of administrative assistance necessary for giving effect to the social reforms suggested by the Commission of Inquiry and also the question of financial and public health assistance with a view to the carrying out of these reforms.’30 ‘Financial assistance’ from the Firestone interests has repeatedly been stressed by the Committee as one of the essentials precedent to the execution of its plan: in fact, as the American Government views the record, it is essential in the eyes of the Committee.
  • “3. The Committee’s plan as drafted, as accepted by the American Government as a basis for direct negotiations between the Firestone interests and Liberia, as endorsed on that basis by the American Government to the Finance Corporation, and as accepted by the Finance Corporation, envisages modification on terms mutually to be agreed upon of the Corporation’s contractual rights and advance by the Corporation to Liberia of not insignificant further funds. Action such as Liberia’s unilateral destruction of the Corporation’s existing contract obviously precludes either direct negotiations or further advance of funds until the action has been withdrawn, and thus automatically creates a condition in which the entire scheme must fail of realization.
  • “4. If there is any ‘dispute’ between the Finance Corporation and Liberia, it can be brought up during the direct negotiations which the Corporation informed the Committee it would attend promptly after the condition referred to above had been removed.
  • “5. The suggestion considered by the Committee that Liberia should be invited to ‘suspend the operation of the measures’ does not seem to the American Government to be equivalent to ‘withdrawal’, since the former not only implies recognition of an illegal act but implies also that if the negotiations did not result in agreement, the ‘suspension’ itself would lapse. Moreover, whatever the theory envisaged by the Committee in the suggestion that Liberia should ‘suspend’, the fact (in contrast to the theory) is that unless Liberia’s illegal actions are withdrawn, direct negotiations between the Finance Corporation and Liberia under the terms of the League plan can not take place. In this the Firestone interests can count upon the absolute support of the American Government.
  • “6. The American Government has cooperated sincerely and disinterestedly in the work of the Committee and it still hopes to be able to continue to do so, in pursuance of its policy of seeking to promote a solution of the Liberian problem by international cooperation. Nevertheless, the American Government cannot divest itself of the duty of protecting the legitimately acquired interests of its citizens, and unless the Committee is prepared to impress upon Liberia that its actions in connection with the League plan must be based on good faith and the sanctity of contracts, it is difficult to see how future cooperation can be real or effective.
  • “7. Bearing these factors in mind, the American Government is confident that it can count upon the support of the Committee. Unless and until Liberia’s illegal actions have been withdrawn, it is obvious that no progress can be made, and in the opinion of the American Government [Page 899] the onus for failure of the plan of assistance will rest squarely upon Liberia.”

For your own information: in connection with paragraph 5 above, it may be that the desired object of withdrawal might be obtained by nullification of the illegal Liberian legislation by the Liberian court. However, it seems to me that the manner in which the withdrawal is made is Liberia’s concern.

  1. See telegram No. 18, January 31, 1931, from the Minister in Switzerland, Foreign Relations, 1931, vol. ii, p. 669.