765.84/3473: Telegram (part air)
The Consul at Geneva ( Gilbert ) to the Secretary of State
[Received January 19—9:33 a.m.]
10. Continuing my No. 9, January 17, 3 p.m., I learn from an entirely reliable source that a responsible Italian official here in private conversations speaks frankly of the perilous situation in which he believes his country is placed both through its internal situation and in its military position in Ethiopia. He states that “as far as he felt possible” he had urged Rome to accept the Laval-Hoare proposals [Page 92] as, on the assumption that Addis Ababa would not accept them, at least offering the tactical advantage of placing Ethiopia in the posture of recalcitrance to a “peace move.” He deplores the continued policy of Mussolini of presenting an optimistic picture to the Italian people as inviting a greater catastrophe for Italy in their ultimate, and in his mind, inevitable disillusionment.
Nothing definite emerges here respecting the various “peace proposals” mooted in the press. However I am reliably informed that, not to be confused with the Ethiopian request to the League for a commission to investigate illegal warfare, Rome recently made informal soundings in London and Paris for the setting up of a commission on the order of the Lytton Commission65 in the Sino-Japanese affair but that London refused to consider any plan not including cessation of hostilities. This Italian move is supposed to be linked in intent at least with the Laval plan of procedure reported in my number 673, December 21, noon,66 paragraph 3, and would presumably be equally unacceptable here for the same reasons.
There are rumors that Mussolini is now really looking for a pretext to back down even to the extent, it is asserted in some quarters, of welcoming an oil embargo as offering the excuse that Italy cannot combat the world.
If the situation of Italy is as adverse as is believed here I venture to suggest that moves by London and Paris having as their possibly disguised aim to “save” Italy may be looked for.