724.34119/96: Telegram

The Ambassador in Argentina ( Weddell ) to the Secretary of State

169. From Gibson.

The past week, the busiest and most critical since the Conference started, has been devoted to efforts to produce an agreement for the exchange and repatriation of prisoners of war.
The draft agreement mentioned in paragraph 5 of my 164, August 3, midnight was torpedoed by Saavedra Lamas in that he presented it to the Paraguayans as an American proposal about to be introduced in the Conference rather than as an informal feeler. They took it as an attempt to impose the Bolivian thesis and rather lost their balance. Since then the week has been a series of alarms and excursions.
The points of view of the two contending parties on the question are at first sight irreconcilable and the task has been made the more difficult by deeply rooted mutual suspicion between the parties, their tendency to discuss developments with outsiders and unfortunate newspaper publicity.
Luckily the other neutral members of the Committee on Prisoners of War, Ruiz Moreno and Nieto del Rio, are able and conciliatory. In an endeavor to get the best talent by temperament and experience working jointly on the problem we asked Rodrigues Alves and Podestá Costa to sit in with us.75 This has served the added purpose of deferring to the chairman by having the other two Argentine delegates among our number.
We worked throughout the week and were in practically continuous session in my office all day Friday and Saturday. We submitted a number of drafts to one and the other party, ascertained their objections and tried to meet them. My telegram No. 168 of August 11, 9 p.m., outlines the formula which we finally evolved last evening and which they have now referred to their Governments.
Our group has worked in complete unity and we are all of the opinion that the solution we have suggested presents the only possible way of conciliating the two totally divergent points of view of Bolivia and Paraguay. Both parties were for a time suspicious of us as well as of each other but they appear now to have confidence in us.
Agreement on the responsibilities tribunal seems assured unless failure to conclude agreement on prisoners of war should lead to change in Bolivian attitude. If both can be adopted in the near [Page 117] future the decks will be cleared for action on the territorial problem. The treatment of this question calls for careful consideration. The Paraguayans state very plainly that they will make no territorial concessions now, will not even discuss Bolivian access to the Paraguay River, and that as they have no confidence in the Permanent Court of International Justice they doubt the possibility of an arbitral agreement.
Saavedra Lamas keeps repeating his view that it would be a mistake to come to grips with the territorial question and says that we must keep the discussions going indefinitely to gain time until conditions are more favorable, frequently alluding to the possibility of keeping the Conference in session for 2 years. As a practical matter it is hard to see how this can be accomplished. In view of the rigid Paraguayan stand there is obviously no material for a long series of plenary debates. Some time might be consumed by informal discussions of the sort we have been carrying on in regard to prisoners, first among the mediators and then alternately with one or the other of the parties. Saavedra Lamas would undoubtedly desire to conduct such conversations himself and it is difficult to see how they could go on indefinitely or lead to agreement under present conditions.
If a committee is set up to deal with the territorial question I feel it would be preferable for me to avoid acceptance of membership. This would not preclude my cooperating or sitting with the committee whenever desirable, as the Brazilian delegate has done with the Prisoners of War Committee, and I should probably be in a better position to help if I were to reserve my efforts for crucial moments when my advice or assistance is needed.
Once the prisoners of war question is out of the way, either through acceptance or rejection of our plan, it will be clear from the foregoing that the Conference can hardly be expected to do anything substantial for some time. Under these circumstances I fear I would only be frittering away my influence if I remain to help improvise measures to simulate activity. The Department will recall that I have now been absent from my post for over 10 months. Unless, therefore, unforeseen prospects of accomplishment are revealed, I believe it would be wise both as regards the Conference and my Embassy if I were to return to Rio de Janeiro at an early date. I should, of course, make it clear that this absence was temporary but I none the less think it advisable. I do not hesitate to propose this as Dawson76 has sat in on all discussions, is on excellent terms with the delegates and can keep the Department informed and recall me when [Page 118] desirable. If the prisoners of war agreement is concluded or rejected by that time I might leave for my post on Thursday’s plane.
I consider it desirable to make clear that I have thus far succeeded in keeping on cordial relations with Saavedra Lamas. [Gibson.]
  1. Isidore-Ruiz Moreno (Argentina), Félix Nieto del Rio (Chile), José de Paula Rodrígues Alves (Brazil), Luis A. Podestá Costa (Argentina).
  2. Allan Dawson, assistant to the American representative, Chaco Peace Conference.