765.84/3724: Telegram (part air)

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

63. 1. The head of the British delegation93 at the recent meetings of the Experts Committees informs me as follows, requesting that the source be kept confidential:

He believed that the earliest date for the convening of the Committee of Eighteen is the end of the first week in March.

He stated that, as his delegation saw it, there were four courses which the Committee of Eighteen might follow respecting the question of petroleum: (a) to decide that an embargo could not be effective and thus bring the issue to an end; (b) to set a date for the going into effect of an embargo and to lift it as “impracticable” when that date was reached; (c) to impose an embargo and then later lift it as not effective; (d) based on deductions from the report that a League embargo would be “expensive” for Italy and thus, even if Italy obtained her supplies elsewhere, would work against her prosecution of the war, to appoint a subcommittee to study “how expensive” it would be. He stated that the adoption of an embargo, its imposition to be contingent on certain conditions, was now not a possible course as it had already in effect been employed in adopting proposal 4–a.

My informant did not believe that (a) would be adopted in view of the desire, both for political reasons as a precedent and vis-à-vis public opinion, to conserve as far as possible the aspect of maintaining the principles of the Covenant. He felt that Russia and Rumania would not accept (c) as unduly injurious to their trade in relationship to the limited achievement, thereby, of the end sought. He rather thought that (d) would be the procedure followed. It will be noted that the four alternatives are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as for example, any one of the first three could follow the last. The last he suggested might, however, be employed as a convenient form for accomplishing the same end as the first.

In any one of these alternatives taken in conjunction with the data in the report and statements therein respecting the United States, it will be seen that the Committee of Eighteen might formally declare the position of the United States, in respect of shipments to Italy, to be a determining factor. My informant seemed anxious to assure me that every effort would be made to avoid placing the “responsibility” on the United States.

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2. The general atmosphere of these disclosures was that the foregoing were by no means definite projects but merely indicated an uncertainty as to the course which would be followed.

3. It may be observed from the character of the alternatives that either through a recognition of political or of practical objections there is no present intention to effect an embargo. The question may thus arise as to why the procedures are continued when their ostensible objective appears relatively impossible of achievement or perhaps not desired by the controlling powers. This is nevertheless a development with many precedents here. Certain reasons for this are implied in the views of my informant which I have set forth above. In general, as seen from here without definite information: a desire to keep the situation fluid in order that later action may be taken in either direction; awaiting some possible favorable material development; the presentation of the aspect of maintaining the principles of the League; to indicate, for its moral effect or possibly as a form of pressure, the willingness of the League to take action if not thwarted by conditions beyond its control.

  1. F. C. Starling, head of the Petroleum Department, Board of Trade.