765.84/2812: Telegram

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

625. Meeting Avenol on a social occasion he broached the question of the recent postponement of the Committee of Eighteen. He informed me that in setting the date of November 29 Vasconcellos had informally sounded out Paris and London, that at the time Paris had offered no objections to the date and that London while favoring a deferment had nevertheless agreed. He then stated bluntly that the reason Laval had given for a postponement of the meeting was a transparent pretext that while it was undoubtedly true that he felt it essential to be in Paris at that time, that he could easily have sent a substitute. He said that the real reason for the French move for postponement was that in view of their relations with Italy, they did not wish to face the issue especially that concerning oil which would be brought about in the discussions under Proposal 4A. He said that he had noted that the British in acquiescing in the postponement had carefully placed the responsibility on France. At the same time he sensed certain obscurities in the British position which were possibly related to current British-Italian conversations. As a corollary of this he said that when the British were last in Geneva they had fairly [Page 863] openly expressed a hope that Laval would fall and that they looked forward to his successor, possibly being Herriot, who would presumably align France more closely to League policy. He stated that he thus does not understand certain statements which he is aware Downing Street has made to the effect that London is favorable to Laval being maintained.

He then asked what I thought the effect the postponement might have on the American position respecting export of the materials in question, especially oil. In reply I confined myself to pointing out official American statements on the part of the President and the Secretary which I said, in my opinion, stood by themselves and did not require any interpretation. I took occasion, nevertheless, to underscore the separate and independent character of American policy both in its intent and expression. I made it entirely clear that I could in no way suggest what course the League should pursue nor did I believe that my Government would make any suggestions. That was a matter entirely for the League to decide. I stressed particularly that in any consideration which the League might give to non-member states as having a bearing on its action, the United States was only one of a number of non-member governments and that in discussing political developments with him, my aim was to be helpful in elucidating solely the American position as expressed in public official utterances and that I was always ready informally to be of such assistance.

Avenol expressed appreciation of what I had to say as most helpful to him and evidenced to me, in his response, an understanding of its spirit and content.

Cumming joined us during the latter part of this conversation.

I may add that in thus expressing myself to Avenol I was fully aware of preoccupations in the Secretariat and in League circles concerning the deliberations of the Committee of Eighteen, in particular concerning the resolutions they might adopt which would presumably almost inescapably either by statement or by inference express a relationship to the position of non-member states respecting the export of the commodities concerned. Associated with this are considerations concerning communications to non-member states, naturally including ourselves. From Avenol’s reaction to what I had to say, I feel that our conversation may have served a useful purpose.

In respect of the commodities concerned, the question of oil is in the forefront of all discussions here, the other products being given scant mention. Incidental to this Russia, Rumania, Iraq, India and Finland have “in notifying here their acceptance of 4A” already indicated, with certain qualifications, their readiness to embargo petroleum and it is understood from London’s general position that Great Britain would do the same were the issue definitely to arise, such British action presumably covering states where this product is [Page 864] under British control. The position of the Netherlands in this latter respect is regarded as similar to that of Great Britain. It is believed that Mexico would likewise be willing to embargo petroleum. Venezuela is regarded as uncertain. Egypt’s position likewise embraces uncertain factors.

There is speculation here on the causes of Argentina’s recent action respecting raw materials which, in view of certain former positions taken by Buenos Aires, was unexpected. I have, however, been unable to gain any satisfactory information here on this score.