The Chargé in the United Kingdom ( Atherton ) to the Secretary of State
[Received March 20—3:41 p.m.]
126. I called on Simon by appointment this afternoon. He began his view of the European situation by stating it was the time and manner of the German announcement on Saturday52 rather than the substance that had so upset the French and indeed all Europe as well. Simon then briefly reviewed the Cabinet discussions which finally terminated in the sending of the note on Monday53 without consultation with Paris and Rome and in spite of French pressure on Sunday and Monday for cancellation of his visit. Simon said consultation would have yielded nothing and he stressed the importance from the point of view of home politics of immediate and constructive independent action by the national Government. Simon was obviously pleased that British opinion of all shades was so approving of the Government’s note and his Berlin visit.
In reply to cumulative French representations Simon said incidentally that he could not help noticing that Laval had agreed to visit Moscow without having previously consulted the British but that yesterday he had pointed out to the French his surprise at their delay in answering such an important statement as the German declaration. Simon said the French had informed him this morning they were answering the Germans today; that they had pressed for conversations before the British Ministers visited Berlin and it had now been agreed Eden54 should meet with Suvich and Laval in Paris on Saturday before rejoining Simon in Berlin on Sunday. The Italians will answer the German note within the next day. The French have [Page 201] likewise informed the British that they will bring up Germany’s violation of the Versailles Treaty before the League Council but Simon pointed out the Council does not meet until May; he obviously deprecated this policy.
I then asked Simon how he viewed the European situation after Hitler’s Saturday announcement. He said he felt it might develop either into a united Europe against Germany which would certainly be the case if it got into the hands of the League of Nations while Germany was not a member of that body or a more constructive solution might be brought about in which a series of collective pacts of regional security might be negotiated and in those in which Germany was interested an attempt would be made to include her. In fact those regional agreements in which Germany might participate were outlined in the Anglo-French communiqué. Simon’s idea was to explore separately with the Germans each one of the subjects raised in the Anglo-French communiqué. He realized that every issue raised in the Anglo-French communiqué could not be profitably pressed simultaneously and therefore was prepared to suggest to Hitler a series of independent negotiations. The Air Locarno would be relatively easy of accomplishment. The negotiations as regards Austria in which England was interested would be carried on separately from the negotiations, for example, of the Eastern European Pact, in which England was not directly concerned. Simon realized that certain negotiations would be easier of accomplishment than others but as each negotiation was completed it would be initialled and the principle of simultaneity laid down in the Anglo-French communiqué would thus become operative in a final agreement for formal signature. I inferred from Simon’s remarks he anticipated that the full negotiations would be protracted and difficult but the very fact Germany was undertaking negotiations would ease the situation and in a sense would be a measure of return by Germany to a collective world.
Simon obviously felt that the French condemnation of the English action was far from constructive especially since Germany interpreted this as a wedge in Anglo-French solidarity but Simon took pains to point out that however much it might be ruffled on the surface it was fundamentally intact. Incidentally Foreign Office has confirmed to the press that after British Ministers’ visits to Berlin and Moscow another Franco-Italian-British conference will be held.
Simon referred to the position of the United States as outside the purview of the Anglo-French communiqué but since Germany had made her statement for world consumption America was naturally concerned, although probably not to the extent of immediate action. He then referred to a reply he gave to a question in the House of Commons this afternoon stating that the visit of the British [Page 202] Ministers to Berlin was purely exploratory and said he would again point out this fact in the House of Commons debate tomorrow. He said he felt Washington would be interested in the fact these visits were being made as exploratory visits by the British Government and not in conjunction with any other government, as an unbiased independent approach in an endeavor to find a solution that would permit of general accord. I venture to point out how this point of view cuts across the Franco-Italian interpretation of the visit of Simon as an agent designated under the Rome-Paris-London conversations. Unquestionably it is this aspect that the French and Italians will endeavor to force upon Eden on Saturday.
Simon then went on to stress the importance of Anglo-American solidarity in world affairs and gave me a very straight intimation that he as Foreign Secretary would welcome any expression from the Administration that it had noted Simon’s visit to Berlin was, as officially stated in the House of Commons, exploratory and it would be interested in following such developments as might come out of these conversations leading to a general appeasement. (In other words, England refuses to accept the continental view until she has explored in Berlin the extent of German intransigency and she would welcome any intimation from the United States that would give her support not only in Paris and Rome but Berlin as well).
- Decree of March 16, 1935, reestablishing compulsory military service; see telegram No. 49, March 16, 8 p.m., from the Ambassador in Germany, vol. ii, p. 296.↩
- March 18, 1935; British Cmd. 4848, Germany No. 1 (1935): Note Delivered by His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin to the German Government on March 18, 1935. ↩
- Anthony Eden, British Lord Privy Seal.↩