United States Flatly Rejects Austrian Peace No…


September 16 1918, Washington–Emperor Charles had long been open to a separate peace with the Allies, most notably sending his brother-in-law Sixtus to negotiate secretly with the French.  When this was revealed by an annoyed Clemenceau in early 1918, Charles was forced to make humiliating concessions to appease the enraged Germans.  By August, however, the Germans’ star was on the wane, as they were suffering repeated defeats on the Western Front.  The Germans decided to only make any moves for peace through a neutral mediator (such as the Dutch or Spanish monarchs) and only then “after the next German success in the west.”

As this success never came, the Austrians quickly lost patience; on September 14, Charles unilaterally issued a note to the Allies (and the Pope), calling for an peace conference “at a near date” in neutral territory, for “a confidential and unbinding discussion on the basic principles for the conclusion of peace.”  On September 16, US Secretary of State Lansing quickly rejected the offer on Wilson’s behalf:

The Government of the United States feels that there is only one reply which it can make to the suggestion of the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Government.  It has repeatedly and with entire candor stated the terms upon which the United States would consider peace and can and will entertain no proposal for a conference upon a matter concerning which it has made its position and purpose so plain.

Lansing here was referring to Wilson’s Fourteen Points; while the Austrians in their note made some positive allusions to them, they stopped well short of accepting them.

The other Allies similarly quickly rejected the Austrian note.  The Germans, meanwhile, grew even more outraged at Emperor Charles.  The only concrete result of the peace move was the cancellation of the planned offensive against neutral Romania, which Austria-Hungary was unwilling to carry out while proposing peace.

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