The Under Secretary of State (Welles) to President Roosevelt

My Dear Mr. President: The British Ambassador7 has just given me the attached message to you from the Prime Minister. I have shown it to the Secretary, and he feels that you will wish to give this [Page 118] your personal thought before we meet with you tomorrow at lunch time.

Faithfully yours,

Sumner Welles

Message From the Prime Minister to the President

I appreciate most highly the mark of confidence which the President has shown in consulting me in regard to his plan.8 I am also greatly encouraged to know that world affairs have been engaging his attention so directly and that he is willing to take so courageous an initiative. The objects which he has in view correspond of course to the aims and hopes of His Majesty’s Government and I am most grateful to him for his vigorous initiative which is designed to work as an action by the United States Government parallel to the effort which His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom are making with the Central Powers.

He has been impelled to make this proposal by consideration of what he has described as progress of deterioration in international relations and consequent danger of general conflagration. No one who has followed closely recent developments can fail to be impressed with the great dangers that beset the world. On the other hand it may be permissible to look forward to some improvement in immediate future. From my correspondence with him last summer9 and from information which has since reached him, President will be aware of the efforts which His Majesty’s Government for their part are making to bring about a measure of appeasement. He will be interested to know that recently His Majesty’s Government received an enquiry from the Italian Government as to when conversations could be re-opened with His Majesty’s Government and that in the last few days I have agreed with the Secretary of State that the latter should on January 16th discuss with the French Minister for Foreign Affairs in Geneva the possibility of making a fresh approach towards reconciliation with Italy that might bring appeasement to the Mediterranean region at least.

His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom have realised that if such appeasement is to be achieved it will not be upon the basis of bargaining in which each side seeks to weigh up what it will get against what it will be asked to give. Our plan (both as regards [Page 119] Germany and Italy) rests upon the view that we and they are in a position each to make a contribution towards the objective we both desire to obtain. There would be no need to discuss whether our contribution were greater or less than theirs. What is needed is to ensure that the contribution of each will, taken with the contribution of the other, make up an agreement which will bring appeasement. Thus in the case of Italy His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom would be prepared for their part, if possible with authority of League of Nations, to recognise de jure Italian conquest of Abyssinia10 (by which Signor Mussolini sets great store) and to take certain other action if they found that Italian Government on their side were ready to give evidence of their desire to contribute to the restoration of confidence and friendly relations. I am hopeful that French Government may be willing to join us in this effort.

In another direction, and adopting the same basis, viz. that all parties can and should make their contribution His Majesty’s Government are about to embark on a study of the situation revealed by Lord Halifax’s visit to Berlin with a view to seeing in what measure German aspirations might be satisfied so that they too could make their contribution to a general appeasement and although this is a very difficult and complicated subject I trust that before long we may be able to begin our conversations with Germany.

I mention these facts so that President may consider—what has occurred to me—whether there is not a risk of his proposal cutting across our efforts here. It is probable that the Italian and German Governments of whom we should have to ask a contribution that they will be none too ready [to] give, might excuse a refusal to continue negotiations on the ground that the subjects under discussion—which for the most part will be specific and concrete in character—seemed all merged in the wider problems which the President contemplates tackling as a whole. It would I feel be regrettable if what I am sure the President intends to be, as he himself describes it, action taken by him parallel to the efforts which we are making, were found to be capable of being used to block progress in the directions which over recent months we have laboriously worked out and for which we feel the stage has at last been set in not too unfavourable a manner.

This leads me to ask the President to consider whether it would not be wiser to consider holding his hand for a short while to see what progress we can make in beginning to tackle some of the problems—see my letter of May 23rd.11 This would not of course prejudice any larger effort that President might be willing to make later.

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I venture to submit these considerations to the President, not because I differ in any way from his objective, still less because I fail to appreciate the motives which led him to put forward his proposals, but solely in order to obtain the benefit of his opinion as to the timeliness of his proposed action. My fear is that if the President’s suggestions are put forward at the present time Germany and Italy may feel constrained to take advantage of them both to delay consideration of specific points which must be settled if appeasement is to be achieved, and to put forward demands over and above what they would put forward to us if we were in direct negotiations with them.

I hold myself in readiness to consider immediately any observations which the President may make on the foregoing and I shall do my utmost to give them consideration and to reply to him without delay.

  1. Sir Ronald Lindsay.
  2. The President’s proposals appear to have been communicated on January 12 to the British Prime Minister.
  3. Reference may be to exchange of letters, July 28, and September 28, 1937, Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. i, pp. 113 and 131, respectively.
  4. See pp. 133 ff.
  5. Not found in Department files.