765.84/1680: Telegram

The Minister in Switzerland (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

323. At Massigli’s44 invitation I had an informal talk today with him and Coulondre, the French Foreign Office expert in economic matters. The conversation can be divided into two: (1) sanctions, and (2) general political matters.

1. Sanctions. Regarding the terms of the arms embargo they immediately raised the question as to which certain strategic materials, [Page 840] notably petroleum and copper, could be included under the term “implements of war”, I replied that I had no instructions in this respect nor could I give them an expert opinion. Personally I felt, however, that it would be difficult legally to include such articles in the terminology of the Act.

They believe that the Committee of Coordination to be set up by the Assembly (see my 320, October 7, 4 p.m.45) will first work on simplest things, for instance, the adoption of a general embargo on munitions of war to Italy and the raising of any embargo against Ethiopia on these articles and next the embargo on credits to Italy. These steps will be followed by the more complicated matter of attempts to embargo the raw materials indicated in the first paragraph. I asked what they proposed to do with respect to Switzerland and Austria whose attitude is uncertain as well as Germany. They suggested the establishment of a rationing system for non-participants which would include an undertaking not to reexport and would be similar to that in practice during the war.

They were emphatically convinced that such embargoes and quotas could be made efficacious but only on condition that the United States would cooperate. I said that I felt cooperation in such measures might be extremely difficult. The President had imposed an embargo as he was authorized under the Act. Congress would not be again in session until the beginning of the year and it seemed to me that with present legislation, it would be difficult to share in such measures.

If, however, a further step were taken and any form of blockade established it seemed to Massigli and Coulondre—judging from the President’s statement of October 5th46—that the American Government would not be disposed to protest against its establishment.

Massigli said that from his conversations with the British he thought it might well be that an invitation to the non-member states to collaborate with the Committee of Coordination would be issued within the next few days. I said that if there were the remotest chance of collaboration on the part of the United States it would be in connection with measures which public opinion in America would regard as real and not as face-saving devices. Coulondre said he understood this and thought it would be better policy if the United States and other non-members were only asked to participate after definite projects had been worked out. Massigli agreed and intimated that he would express this opinion to the British.

During this conversation both Massigli and Coulondre were expressing their personal views and at times thinking out loud. I made [Page 841] it clear that I had no instructions on any of these matters nor did I know what my Government’s opinion was in this connection.

2. General political matters. Massigli thinks that a lot of Italian money has been spent on the French press; that its present tone was also brought about by the sudden realization of the gravity of the issues. It was one of those waves which rise and fall in the passage of time. There was no doubt in his mind or in that of Coulondre that whenever there was a choice between England and Italy, France had to side with England, that France’s primary political necessity was the real application of the Covenant.

Massigli had no knowledge of any basis for the newspaper reports that events were tending to a resumption of negotiations with Mussolini. The British had taken the sound position that negotiations must be carried on under the League of Nations which would not of course prevent conversations between Ministries in anticipation of such negotiation. No reports had come from Mussolini as far as Massigli knew which would justify the hope that negotiations were imminent.

Without precise knowledge Massigli believes the British were making progress in discussions with the Germans in regard to economic sanctions. He also expressed the opinion that the exchange of correspondence between the French and the British Governments shows that they are on the road to a “real entente”.

  1. Rané Massigli, Assistant Director of Political and Commercial Affairs in the French Foreign Office.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Department of State, Press Releases, October 5, 1935, p. 255.