The Ambassador in France ( Straus ) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 14—9:25 a.m.]
403. In conversation with an official at the Foreign Office yesterday afternoon he said that the exact status of Ethiopia was “most confusing and without precedent”. He said that the French Government had received official notification from the Italian Government of the decree annexing Ethiopia; the French Government, however, had not as yet “even begun to consider” what form any reply if and when made might take. There were “no useful precedents” for such a case, for instance during the World War Belgium had been overrun and occupied but the Belgian Government always remained in possession of the Belgian soil and in active resistance to the enemy; the more recent case of Manchuria “was much less delicate” for France since French interests there were relatively unimportant. The League of Nations in its resolution of May 12, 1936,38 had “apparently” decided that Ethiopia still existed as an independent state “and there the matter stands”. He said that the French Government had counselled the Italian Government against any such drastic move as annexation pure and simple and had made “reservations” against such an eventuality well in advance of the Italian announcement of annexation.
In response to an inquiry he said that there had been no “active” [Page 135] discussions with the Italian Government respecting French interests in Ethiopia such as the railway; the impression was obtained however that the “reservations” undoubtedly covered such interests.
This official said that the French Government was completely in the dark regarding the exact significance to be attached to the withdrawal of the Italian delegation from Geneva and that the Italian Ambassador whom he had seen the night before could throw no light on the matter. He (this official) believed however that Mussolini had no present intention-of withdrawing from the League since the League might prove useful later on to Italy and that the dramatic departure of Aloisi had been ordered more in the nature of a protest against the attitude assumed by the Council in the Ethiopian question.
He said that in the meeting at Geneva of the Locarno powers (minus Italy) there had been no discussion beyond an agreement that nothing could be discussed until Germany replies to the British questionnaire.39
He added that while there seemed to be a certain amount of attention being given to schemes for the reform of the League (for instance the British press has been publishing letters) such a matter would obviously require months of work and the French Government was at present more concerned with finding some practical solutions to the pressing problems immediately confronting Europe.
Cipher texts to London, Berlin, Rome, Geneva.