Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs (Dunn)

As Mr. Phillips was otherwise engaged when the telephone connection which he had earlier requested was established with Mr. Hugh Wilson at Geneva, he asked me to take over the communication. I gave Mr. Wilson a message in the following sense in connection with the reported possibility of an approach to this Government by the Coordination Committee with regard to the prohibition of shipments to Italy of coal, iron, steel and oil:

There is one point upon which we feel that you should know our thoughts, that is, that we consider that the President probably has no legal authority to prevent the exportation to belligerents of materials other than those included in his proclamation of October 5 on arms, ammunition and implements of war.

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In order that we may maintain our independent position in carrying out the policies we have adopted toward this situation, it is extremely important that there be no request to us at this stage for information with regard to any action we might take with regard to the shipment of any specific commodities. We feel sure that you will make every effort to make our position clear in this regard.

A situation might conceivably arise in which, after concerted action taken by the League member states prohibiting the shipments of any particular commodity or group of commodities to Italy, this country might become the chief source of supply of one or several of such commodities, thus becoming a factor in prolonging the war. In the presence of a situation of that kind, where American citizens were thus obviously furnishing the means for prolonging the conflict, there would no doubt become evident a revulsion of feeling throughout the United States against such an action by American citizens, thus bringing about a strong independent action by this Government to prevent this country’s becoming a part[y] to an extension of the war. But the important factor in this whole situation was that any development in our policy must be left to the free and independent action which might be taken in the light of circumstances which would be considered from our own point of view and our own national policies.

Mr. Wilson stated that he had already informed all those interested in Geneva that in his own opinion the President did not have sufficient legal authority under the neutrality resolution of Congress to add any further articles or commodities to the list contained in his proclamation of embargo of arms, ammunition and implements of war on October 5.

Mr. Wilson further stated that he had already, even before receiving our telegram of yesterday on the subject, taken up with three or four of the more important members of the Coordination Committee and with the Secretary of the Committee the matter of avoiding any approach to this Government by the Committee in connection with their plans for an embargo on certain commodities. He said that he was satisfied now that any communication sent to us would merely inform us of the proceedings of the Committee with regard to commodity embargoes and would contain no request for action on our part. I asked if he felt that the Committee members were going to insist upon communicating with us in the premises and he said he was sure they felt they must inform us of the articles embargoed, if nothing more, as they considered it important that the non-member states at least be informed of their action.

I then asked Mr. Wilson if it would be possible to have the communication which the Committee might send addressed to him as American Minister to Switzerland rather than to the Secretary of [Page 857] State here in Washington. He said he thought this might be possible and he would get to work on the suggestion immediately. I then went over the ground again very briefly of the importance of our taking any action whatever with regard to the situation in Geneva entirely from the standpoint of our own policy and independent of any action there. I pointed out that the Government’s policy here had received and was receiving almost unanimous support in this country which was a very important factor in the situation and that as things developed in Geneva it was very possible that additions and modifications could be made to our position appropriately to meet new situations. I said there was one important element which we had had very much in mind during the progress of these recent occurrences and that was that any solution to the controversy, we hoped, would be a just and equitable settlement. Mr. Wilson said that he himself had had that very much in mind and was watching very carefully developments in every direction which would throw any light upon that phase of the situation.

I asked Mr. Wilson if there were any negotiations going on at present with respect to a solution of the difficulty. He said that as far as he knew there was nothing going on at all at present and that the only matters being discussed at present were the sanctions and their method of application.

I told Mr. Wilson that this conversation was entirely for the confidential information of himself and of Mr. Gilbert, to whom I asked him to convey the sense of the points brought out in our talk.

James Clement Dunn