Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

The British Ambassador called to see me this afternoon. The Ambassador stated that Mr. Eden15 had spoken to him on the telephone yesterday afternoon and had asked if the Ambassador could give him any indication whether the President had reached any decision with regard to going ahead with the plan which had been discussed with the British Government. After this telephone conversation with Mr. Eden the Ambassador had spoken to me on the telephone with regard to it and I told him that it would be impossible for me to give him any reply until I had spoken with the President. I now told the Ambassador that I had spoken to the President this morning and that the President had asked me to let the Ambassador know for the information of his Government that he expected to be able to give some indication to the British Government within the next few days of what his plans would be and that for the immediate moment the President had nothing more definite to say.

The Ambassador then asked whether the President had anything further to say on the subject of the recognition by the British Government of the conquest of Ethiopia in connection with the statements made by Mr. Chamberlain in his second personal message16 to the [Page 123] President. I replied to the Ambassador that it had seemed to me that the position of the President was set forth with complete and entire clarity in the President’s personal message to the Prime Minister and that in view of that message from the President there was obviously nothing which could be added to it. The Ambassador said that this was his own opinion but that he merely wanted to be sure that his own understanding was accurate. The Ambassador added that there was obviously extreme pressure being brought to bear on Mr. Eden to renew the conversations with Italy and reminded me that the Prime Minister had very clearly indicated in his last message to the President that the negotiations envisaged would undoubtedly be long protracted and that obviously no announcement of the British Government’s basis for negotiations would be made public for a considerable time to come.

The Ambassador then said that Mr. Eden had told him that he had had the conversation with M. Delbos, the French Foreign Minister, at Geneva which had originally been scheduled for January 16 as referred to in the first message from the Prime Minister to the President on the subject of negotiations with Italy. Mr. Eden had told Sir Ronald that the conversations with M. Delbos had been entirely satisfactory and that the French Government would support the position of the British Government in the course of the projected conversations with Italy to the fullest extent. The Ambassador remarked that the relations between France and Italy at the present time were so bad that the two Governments were actually not on speaking terms and that for Great Britain to have to enter these conversations carrying the load of France on her back constituted a very serious obstacle. He said, however, that no appeasement of the Mediterranean area was possible without the conclusion of a satisfactory agreement between Italy and France as well as between Italy and Great Britain, and that, therefore, this was indispensable.

I took this occasion of speaking to the Ambassador with considerable frankness of the conversation I had had with the Italian Ambassador yesterday17 in so far as our conversation related to the Mediterranean. The Ambassador listened with great interest and said that he thought that Suvich still possessed the entire confidence of Mussolini and had spoken with authority. He himself did not indicate with any precision, however, what the British attitude would be in the projected negotiations beyond stating that the British wanted a great deal, and merely itemized defortification of Libya, disarmament in the Mediterranean, and assurances that any government that might exist in Spain would not be the catspaw of Italy. He added that this latter point, he assumed, would be the crux of the negotiation. He expressed [Page 124] surprise at the attitude of the Italian Government as conveyed by the Italian Ambassador in London to Mr. Eden and which conformed to what Suvich had said to me, namely, that the recognition of the conquest of Ethiopia was practically all that the Italians desired, and referred to this as being satisfied with what was purely “tinsel”.

The Ambassador gave me further to understand that the British intended now to press actively ahead with concurrent conversations with Germany.

In conclusion I said to the Ambassador that the President had told me that he would send word to the Ambassador of whatever decision he might reach with regard to the matter above referred to, and that until that time there was nothing further I could communicate to the Ambassador on that subject.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; resigned, February 20, 1938.
  2. Not found in Department files.
  3. See memorandum by the Under Secretary of State, February 1, p. 6.