Negotiations, Part 4:
August 17, Thursday: Articles IX (Expenses of War) and X (Limit Naval Strength); Roosevelt Asked to Help
By Thursday, August 17, most of the other issues having been resolved, Witte and Komura debated without success the four remaining demands:
- Russian ships in neutral ports (Demand X)
- limitations on Russia's Far East fleet (Demand XI)
- Sakhalin Island (Demand V, Treaty Article IX)
- the indemnity (Demand IX)
Following heated discussions during morning and afternoon sessions, Witte told Komura he would no longer discuss the indemnity (Demand IX) nor Sakhalin (Demand V), and that Friday’s session would be devoted to Japanese fishing rights (Demand XII, Treaty Article XI). This was a pivotal day, since fearing that the peace conference might end without an agreement, both Witte and Komura sent telegrams home seeking advice and support. In four messages to the Tsar, Witte expressed doubts about the success of the conference, believing the parties were deadlocked and unwilling to compromise over Sakhalin and the indemnity. Witte told the Tsar he believed Russia should give up Sakhalin since the Japanese were already in control. (See Map of Articles IX and XI.)
Likewise, Komura told Tokyo the conference would probably end in a couple of days without a signed treaty. He proposed giving up the demands calling for Russia to surrender their interned ships (Demand X) and limiting Russian naval strength in the Far East (Demand XI). Since Roosevelt had earlier indicated he was willing to act if the conference reached an impasse, Komura sent Kaneko to ask the president for his help.
August 18, Friday: Komura Compromise, Niles Cottage State Dinner
At Friday's formal session, Komura, before hearing from his government, on his own initiative, offered to drop the demands regarding the Russian navy and interned ships, if Witte, in a spirit of conciliation, would agree to continue the discussion of Sakhalin and the indemnity. Rather than dictating a formal reply, Witte asked for a private session with just the four plenipotentiaries attending. In that meeting, Witte explained that he had strict orders regarding the two issues. He said the national sentiment was to continue the war and that Russians were opposed to giving up Sakhalin and paying any indemnity. He, however, was personally anxious to see peace restored and suggested that a payment, not to exceed the cost of the care of the Russian prisoners, was possible and he asked if Komura would accept a partition of Sakhalin.
Komura replied that Japanese sentiment was also opposed to surrendering Sakhalin and dropping an indemnity. In a spirit of mutual concessions, Komura asked if Japan agreed to split Sakhalin, would Russia pay an indemnity of at least 1,200 billion yen, essentially selling back the northern half to Russia. Witte expressed doubts that this indemnity would succeed, but acceded to Komura's request to consult his government on the issue. The parties set the next session for Tuesday, August 22, to allow time to consult with their governments.
Meeting on Friday with Kaneko, Roosevelt immediately agreed to use his "good offices" to resolve the deadlock and he asked Witte to send a representative to meet with him.
On Friday, August 18, the Portsmouth Herald headlined, "Crisis is Reached: Peace Negotiations May End at Any Moment. Very Little Hope at Present of a Final Agreement." The Herald said "The Russian envoys say that they would never be forgiven if they agreed to the payment of money and the giving up of their country's territory. The Japanese assert that they would be forever disgraced if they placed their signatures to a treaty which did not include those points."
Friday evening the Russians attended a state dinner at the Niles' cottage hosted by Secretary Peirce and his wife and prominent people from Portsmouth and summer people from the Hotel Wentworth and elsewhere.
The Tenth Artillery Corps Band also played at the occasion. A renowned U. S. Military Band from Fort Banks, Boston, the band was assigned by the U. S. Army to Fort Constitution in New Castle during the delegates’ stay. The band played at the Wentworth Hotel at a specially constructed bandstand and at other delegate social occasions, at Fort Constitution, and for the governor and mayor of Portsmouth throughout the area during the negotiations.
August 19, Saturday: Back Channel - Roosevelt Meets Rosen
August 20, Sunday: Church and U.S.S. Mayflower Social Event
August 21, Monday: Roosevelt Back Channel Efforts
On Monday, Roosevelt met with Kaneko and supported the Komura compromise on Sakhalin but suggested reducing the indemnity to 600 million yen. Meanwhile, Roosevelt initiated a series of secret behind the scenes diplomatic initiatives, known as back channel diplomacy. The president sent a message to the Tsar, hand delivered by Ambassador George Meyer, urging Nicholas to accept the Japanese proposal but suggesting that the amount of the indemnity could be worked out later. During this period, Roosevelt sent telegrams to leaders in Germany, France and Britain urging their support for this peaceful compromise. The German emperor, who had influence with the Czar, encouraged the Czar to compromise.
A memorial was presented to Witte and Rosen at the Wentworth Hotel by a group of Russian Jews from Lawrence, Massachusetts, who earnestly wished Witte and Rosen success in bringing peace to their former homeland. About 600 Russian Jews from Lawrence signed the document.