740.0011 Mutual Guarantee (Mediterranean)/51: Telegram (part air)

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

197. I have from time to time been able to confirm from further sources the substance of my telegram 180, May 16, 6 p.m., concerning a projected Mediterranean pact and to obtain the following information respecting recent developments.

(1) The Balkan Entente states appear to be anxiously hopeful that one of the great powers take the initiative. The approaches of Belgrade, Athens, and Ankara, and to an extent Bucharest to London on this question take their departure from the existing mutual aid arrangements49 between Great Britain and those countries which are manifestly eager, due to their fear of Italy, that such project be consummated.

As indicative of this I find that the Ministers here of the three states first named are being kept unusually informed by their Governments as to how the matter is progressing.

(2) In a conversation with an informed Italian official here he confirmed to me the transmission of the Mediterranean “proposals” to Rome in the manner I previously described. He stated frankly and I believe sincerely that while Rome had presumably not advised him on all points he had nevertheless officially been instructed “for his guidance” on the background of pertinent Italian policy. He told me he understood that Italy was entirely ready to agree to such an arrangement with, however, the usual proviso that sanctions first be lifted. He added that this condition prevented Italy immediately taking the initiative. He said that it should be entirely manifest to everyone that Italian policy must now be seen as precluding any possible “designs” against the small Mediterranean states. He said that Italy was further ready to give Great Britain and France guarantees respecting their African interests. He spoke with surprise concerning London’s apparent endeavor to keep British-Italian animosities alive referring to what indeed seems to be a recrudescence of anti-Italian expressions in the British press. He admitted in a guarded manner that sanctions were hurting Italy but said that Great Britain must be blind not to perceive that Italy could not passively permit itself to be worn down by such measures and particularly in view of her recent successes to submit to a “bankers’ victory”. He [Page 142]stated his belief that a continued attempt along these lines would provoke Italy to violent action or at least thrust her entirely toward Germany (he speculated on a possible Italo-German agreement respecting Austria along the lines of the Russo-Rumanian arrangement concerning Bessarabia),50 He said that he believed that an element in British tactics was to maintain the status quo respecting sanctions and the general League position while Italy weakened and Great Britain gained in strength and in particular that Great Britain preferred that the responsibility for any overt material action lie with the Italians in order to derive therefrom the greatest possible support both from the League and from world opinion. He felt that the situation was drifting toward serious possibilities should Italy be driven desperate by this policy.

(3) He further told me that he understood that Rome had not yet accepted the invitation to the Straits Conference51 and he believed that such acceptance also depended upon the lifting of sanctions.

(4) The Mediterranean representatives here are thus watching with apprehension British and French positions on sanctions. Feeling assured that France favors a Mediterranean adjustment they tell me that their Governments have been endeavoring to persuade Paris to take the initiative. They believe that London is holding Paris back from such action and assert that they have positively ascertained that Eden obtained an assurance from Blum that France would not bring forward in Geneva the lifting of sanctions and that the two reached a tentative agreement to defer the matter of sanctions and the entire Italo-Ethiopian question until the regular assembly, this to be accomplished either by taking pertinent formal action at the Council meeting on June 16 or by not holding the meeting.

There are in fact rumors here that the June 16th meeting will not take place.

  1. Mutual aid arrangements between Great Britain on the one hand and France, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey on the other for collaboration in the event of special measures of a military character by Italy against any one of them; see British Cmd. 5072, Ethiopia No. 2 (1936): Dispute between Ethiopia and Italy, Correspondence in Connection with the Application of Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, January 1936.
  2. Perhaps a reference to the Convention for the Definition of Aggression between Afghanistan, Estonia, Latvia, Persia, Poland, Rumania, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and Turkey, signed at London, July 3, 1933; League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cxlvii, p. 67. While there is no specific reference in this convention to Bessarabia, yet there is the implication that the Soviet Union was committed supposedly to settle the dispute without resort to aggressions defined in the convention.
  3. See pp. 503 ff.