The Chargé in France (Wilson) to the Secretary of State
[Received 6:52 p.m.]
694. I called upon Bonnet this morning. He was delighted with the London conversations.78 He said that there had been the most complete agreement on cooperation in military defense—army, navy and air—within the limits of the agreement of March 19, 1936.79 General staff talks will now follow and will be actively pursued. Chamberlain had repeated Baldwin’s80 phrase “our frontier is on the Rhine”. Chamberlain had stated that Great Britain was determined to defend the French and Belgian frontiers as if they were British frontiers. The cooperation in military matters is based upon the idea of defense of French frontiers.
He said that the British had shown particular interest in hastening the conclusion of an agreement between France and Italy which would bring appeasement in the Mediterranean region. The British will use their good offices in Rome if necessary to assist in smoothing out difficulties. Bonnet said that as a matter of fact he looked for no difficulties.
There were certain matters which France had had to insist upon since they were essential to French interests. Tunis was one of these matters. I asked if it was a question of obtaining Italian consent to putting into force the provisions of the January 1935 agreement concerning Tunis.81 Bonnet said that this was the case. He went on to [Page 48] say that he hoped that the agreement with Italy might be signed by about the tenth of this month and that an Ambassador to Rome would be named a few days after the conclusion of the agreement. The choice of an ambassador has not yet been determined. He said that even if it had been found possible he would not have favored signing the Italian agreement before Hitler’s trip to Rome. Hitler’s visit would have spoiled the effect. Announcement of the signature of the agreement shortly after Hitler’s visit ought to create a good effect which would last for a while. He looks for no difficulties at Geneva serious enough to interfere with the program of extending recognition to the Italian Empire.
Bonnet then spoke of Spain and said that he believed matters had reached the point where an effort at mediation might be successful. He believed that if the United States would associate itself in such an effort this would contribute enormously to its success and he hoped very much that the Government of the United States would agree to do so.
I said that I recalled that some 3 or 4 months ago Delbos had proposed to Ambassador Bullitt that the United States play the role of joint mediator in the Spanish conflict: that the Ambassador had consulted Washington and had been informed that any efforts on our part to mediate in the Spanish conflict would be inconsistent with our policy of non-intervention in European affairs.82
I asked Bonnet if he really believed that there was any possibility of successful mediation saying that it seemed to me that mediation might be possible when both sides were exhausted and the outcome of the struggle uncertain but that with Franco practically certain to win before long it was difficult to see what interest he would have in accepting mediation. Bonnet said that he agreed that the outcome of the Spanish conflict was not in doubt but he nevertheless considered that there was genuine possibility for successful mediation. He knew that the Spanish Government would accept mediation and he had reason to believe that Franco might accept it. He did not press further the matter of the United States joining in an effort at mediation and I believe that he accepted my statement as a reply to his suggestion.
Bonnet then said that Czechoslovakia was of course the crucial problem today. At London Chamberlain had begun by saying that the Czechs must be pressed to make every possible concession to avoid a situation which might result in war; that if the Germans should attack Czechoslovakia the whole business would be over in 24 hours [Page 49] and it would be better for the Czechs to give away a great deal in order to save something rather than to lose everything. Bonnet had replied that while he was in agreement, nevertheless, when it was a question of trying to conciliate the lion and the lamb, it was not enough simply to belabor the lamb. Some effort should be made to get the lion to be more reasonable. As a result of Bonnet’s insistence Chamberlain had agreed that the British would make a démarche in Berlin in the following sense: they would call attention as a result of urging by the British and the French Benes was prepared to make further concessions; they would urge that the minority question be settled by peaceful negotiation, would offer their assistance in bringing this about, and would go on to indicate that if during the negotiations there should be an attempt to settle the matter by force, this would create a situation to which the British could not remain indifferent. I remarked that this seemed to go considerably beyond the position which Chamberlain had stated in the Commons on March 24. Bonnet replied that it did in fact go beyond that position. I said that what he had told me gave me the impression that the British would endeavor to assume the role of mediator as between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Bonnet said that this was the case. I asked when the British démarche would be made. Bonnet replied that it would be made after Hitler’s return to Berlin. Bonnet said that the United States Government would be able to make an important contribution by counseling in Berlin that this problem should be settled by peaceful negotiation and he hoped that the United States would act in this sense. I said that I would be glad to report his views to you.
I asked Bonnet how he really felt that the Czech question would work out. He said that it was a most difficult problem. Czechoslovakia is a motley of minorities and conflicting interests. It will be necessary for Czechoslovakia to make great sacrifices if anything is to be saved. His position is that any settlement which the British will support and if necessary be prepared to defend is satisfactory to him.
I asked if there had been any indication that Chamberlain intended to explore the possibilities of a general settlement with Germany. Bonnet said that there had been none. Chamberlain would of course pursue this idea whenever the moment was opportune but the present moment in Bonnet’s opinion is clearly inopportune. Bonnet said that Chamberlain had never mentioned the Four Power Pact.83
- For record of Anglo–French conversations on April 28 and 29, see British Documents, 3d ser., vol. i, doc. No. 164, pp. 198–234.↩
- For text, see British Cmd. 5134, and League of Nations, Official Journal, April 1936 (pt. 1), p. 348.↩
- Stanley Baldwin, former British Prime Minister.↩
- Protocol between France and Italy regarding Italians in Tunisia, signed at Rome, January 7, 1935; British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxxxix, p. 950.↩
- See pp. 149 ff.↩
- Term applied to a possible agreement among France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.↩