765.84/3471: Telegram (part air)

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

9. The outstanding characteristic of the Italo-Ethiopian question from the Geneva point of view on the approach of the Council meeting, is that among the various separate elements which govern the situation there is as yet no emergence of a relationship in terms of possible action.

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1. The Secretariat position is that the matter of an oil embargo should come up during the Council in contemporaneous meetings of League bodies. I am told that the Secretariat plan is that Vasconcellos62 will inquire in the Committee of Eighteen whether there are any objections to the extension of the sanctions to oil, coal, iron and steel and that failing objections a date will immediately be set for their going into effect.

The Secretariat had envisaged as a point of departure for such action American neutrality legislation which they thought would become effective before the convening of the Council. Now, however, feeling that Congress may not have completed its action prior to these meetings the Secretariat authorities describe the situation as more “uncertain” and have inquired of me as to the action which the League might best take to conform with or to have the most favorable effect on American policy. I have naturally declined to comment on this aspect of the question but merely reiterated the independent character of American policy.

2. More general indications, however, point to the oil question not being raised or at least that no definite material action will be taken. It is possible that a committee will be appointed to consider the matter. The situation suggests that Great Britain will not desire, nor France permit an external excuse being presented to Mussolini to take hostile action in the European sphere. The present tendency would seem to be for the issue to remain static awaiting material developments. This is governed partly by a growing belief here derived from a number of sources that the tide has turned against Italy, either that a substantial victory as a bargaining point had become less probable or in any event even in the case of a transient military success that the financial and economic state of affairs [in] Italy together with the physical difficulties of the campaign will prevent an attainment of Italian objectives. Should material developments become substantially favorable to Italy a new situation would in any event be presented.

3. I am inclined to believe that the procedures of the forthcoming sessions of League bodies will be confined to giving technical consideration to the degree of application of existing sanctions and that these will remain in force. The problem is being more and more discussed nevertheless as to whether failure to extend sanctions may not have the psychological effect of producing a slackening in the enforcement of existing sanctions in certain states with the ultimate result of a dissolution of the system. In discussing the matter with me various delegates are increasingly emphasizing the material losses which their countries are sustaining in the application of sanction measures.

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4. On the other side of the picture is the question of the commitments which Great Britain may have obtained from France and from certain Mediterranean states under the mutual support provisions of article XVI.63 Nothing definite is apparently yet known here concerning the character and significance of the recently reported London-Paris arrangements. The Greek Minister tells me that he believes London’s démarches in Belgrade, Athens, and Ankara were along identic lines. He does not know whether the replies were an agreement in principle or envisaged specific action. In respect of principle he believes that the replies mentioned paragraph 3 of article No. XVI but that in each case special reserves were made in some form respecting paragraph 2. On the material side he understands that German trade relations have been established. The important point remains, however, whether these developments have the purpose of increasing the general pressure on Rome, whether they are protective or whether they are steps in eventually forcing military conclusions with Italy.

The Turkish and Yugoslav Ministers in their conversations with me imply that Great Britain has granted certain trade compensations to their states in association with the matter of mutual support.

The Spanish here are extremely reticent even as to whether London made a similar démarche at Madrid. They state that in any event their Government’s policy is not yet formulated.

5. There are rumors that certain of the small states, Denmark and Sweden being particularly mentioned, may support the Ethiopian request for the despatch of a commission of inquiry (Consulate’s number 2, January 7, noon). It does not seem probable, however, that the League will take such action.

  1. Augusto Vasconcellos, Portuguese delegate to the League and Chairman of the Committee on Sanctions.
  2. See footnote 49, p. 141.