The Consul at Geneva ( Gilbert ) to the Secretary of State
No. 1287 Political

Sir: I have the honor to report that Professor Pitman Benjamin Potter, American national, who has been named by Abyssinia as a member of the Commission of Arbitration set up under the Italo-Abyssinian Treaty of August 2, 1928, called on me yesterday in my office. As the Department is aware, the Commission is composed of Professor G. de la Pradelle (French) and Professor Pitman Benjamin Potter (American) named by Abyssinia, and Count Luigi Aldrovandi Marescotti and Signor Raffaele Montagna (both Italian) named by Italy.

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Professor Potter told me that he had come to see me inasmuch as he was about to leave for Milan where the first meeting of the Commission had been scheduled to take place today. Professor Potter was naturally not able to forecast what might transpire during the meeting of the Commission or what its ultimate determinations might be. Certain observations which he made may, however, be of interest.

It seems that growing out of correspondence between Aldrovandi and de la Pradelle a compromise was reached whereby the Italian members designated the place of the first meeting of the Commission and Abyssinia the date. It thus was arranged to meet at Milan on June 6.
Professor Potter believes that the first meeting will confine itself (1) to the formulation of a schedule respecting the place and dates of future meetings; (2) to an agreement on the mode of procedure of the Commission, i. e. whether negotiations will be oral or carried on by means of the presentation of written “briefs” and “counterbriefs”.
It would be presumed that this preliminary meeting would likewise determine in principle at least the scope of the discussions which the Commission will undertake. Professor Potter is of the opinion, however, that the terms of reference under which the Commission is to act are nebulous and that the question of the determining of the scope of its action, in other words its competence, would at the outset present grave obstacles to an agreement.
The other of Professor Potter’s observations went more into the substance of the matter. With reference thereto, I beg to call attention to the pertinent portions of the Consulate’s despatch No. 1283 Political of June 5, 1935.20
He feels that the terminology of the Italo-Abyssinian Treaty of 1928 under which the Commission becomes operative is vague in the employment of the terms “arbitration” and “conciliation”. He believes, nevertheless, that it is obvious that the first stage of the functions of the Commission, i. e. until the appointment of a fifth member if that eventuates, is purely that of conciliation.
He anticipates that the appointment of a fifth member will, from an Abyssinian point of view, become necessary and due to the circumstance that no provision has been made for such an appointment by an outside agency, he is inclined to believe that this circumstance will lead the Commission into an impasse.
He stated that in determining the responsibility for the Wal Wal incident it would be necessary for the Commission to reach a decision as to whether or not Wal Wal was Abyssinian territory. He believed that the latitude respecting the question of the boundary given the Commission as the result of the League Council’s proceedings of May [Page 608] 2521 brought the question of the determination of the territorial status of Wal Wal within the competence of the Commission. In presenting this view, Professor Potter stressed the circumstance that in the Council discussion of the boundary the word “delimitation” had been employed. It was of course understood that the Commission could not undertake the function of delimitation; but he felt that the restrictive sense in which this word was used left the Commission free to make a more general determination of the boundary as it affected the political status of Wal Wal.

I may comment that I feel that the Italian members will without doubt oppose any determination by the Committee of the territorial status of Wal Wal, taking the position in this respect that such action would be a determination and thus in principle a delimitation of the boundary.

Respectfully yours,

Prentiss B. Gilbert
  1. Not printed.
  2. See telegram No. 201, May 25, 11 a.m., from the Consul at Geneva, p. 603.