The British Embassy to the Department of State

Oral Communication

The attitude of the American Government towards the Abyssinian controversy, especially in regard to their Neutrality Resolution, and in regard to the manner in which they have ranged themselves definitely on the side of peace, is very deeply appreciated. The obvious sincerity of the President and of his Administration in using their influence to prevent the exploitation of war for private profit, particularly as regards oil, has made a very deep impression, and it is therefore desired most earnestly to take no action which will embarrass the Administration or in any way hamper any action it may find possible with the object of bringing the war to an end. It would be a calamity if responsible people in America were to conclude that the British Government and other members of the League were not prepared to do what they could to restrict oil exports while the American Government was using its moral influence towards bringing about such a restriction. There would obviously be a bitter reaction if the situation were to be exploited in Europe for dishonest interests. The good feeling that exists at present in the common interest of peace would be compromised and oil exports to Italy would clearly be greatly expanded.

There are however other features of the problem which require to be taken into account. It has already been explained that the Geneva meeting was postponed on account of the political crisis in France, and on November 29th a personal message was received in London from Monsieur Laval saying that owing to the extremely important debate in the Chamber he would not be able to go to Geneva until the following week. In these circumstances it has been necessary to acquiesce in a postponement of the meeting until December 12th, though His Majesty’s Government had intimated at Geneva that they were ready for the meeting on any generally acceptable date.

Furthermore, evidence is accumulating that the difficulties of the Italian position, and the advisability of making terms are being realized by Signor Mussolini. Though the task is difficult and excessive optimism must be avoided it is certainly essential that the reality of this situation should be tested and it is quite possible in view of Signor Mussolini’s disposition that he might be made more rather than less intransigent by an actual imposition of an oil embargo in present circumstances. A breathing space for these negotiations would be welcomed by Sir Samuel Hoare and it is expected that this feeling may be widely shared. It is thought that Signor Mussolini may be more likely to be reasonable with the embargo hanging over [Page 866] his head than with the embargo actually imposed. In any case, it is intended to make a serious attempt to bring about a settlement in the next few weeks, and it is impossible to say for certain at present whether it will appear wise to impose an embargo on December 12th, as the answer to this will necessarily depend on the progress which may be made with peace negotiations. It might be wise to postpone the actual embargo to a further meeting of the Committee if the proposed conversations are progressing favourably. In any case it is hoped that it will be clearly understood here that apart from the immediate delay due to the French crisis, any other delay will be due to intensive efforts to bring about a peaceful settlement, and this fact will be made abundantly plain if delay does take place.

It is appreciated that these delays may be embarrassing to the President and his Administration and in explaining them it is hoped that they will be able to communicate their reactions, as Sir Samuel Hoare is most anxious to hide nothing from them, and to avoid all possible risks of misunderstanding and recrimination. At the same time he can see no other course that could be safely adopted if the risks of Italy extending the war are to be minimised and if the chances of achieving a peaceful settlement are to be increased.