Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)
The British Ambassador called to see me this morning and left with me for purposes of information copies of confidential instructions that had been sent by Mr. Eden to Sir Robert Craigie, the British Ambassador in Tokyo, under dates of February 4 and February 15. These instructions had to do in part with the possibility of good offices being extended in the Chinese-Japanese hostilities by Great Britain and by the United States54 and made it evident that the suggestions made in this regard by the Japanese Ambassador in London were not supported by the Japanese Government. The Ambassador asked if I would return these documents to him, which I said I would be glad to do after I had an opportunity of showing them to the Secretary of State and to one or two other officials in the Department.
The Ambassador then said that his Government wished us to be advised that the Prime Minister had determined to push actively for an understanding with Germany and to this effect had instructed Sir Nevile Henderson, the British Ambassador in Berlin, to seek immediately an interview with Hitler for the purpose of ascertaining what the German position might specifically be with regard to two matters: first, the precise extent and nature of Germany’s colonial ambitions [Page 32] and, second, the precise extent and nature of Germany’s attitude with regard to a permanent Central European appeasement. The Ambassador emphasized that Sir Nevile Henderson was not instructed to make any commitment on the part of the British Government but was merely to undertake an exploratory conversation for the purpose of obtaining information with regard to the German point of view. The Ambassador said that his instructions further told him to assure us that all developments with regard to these conversations would be reported to us so that we might be closely informed of what was going on. I told the Ambassador that we had received a cable from Mr. Kennedy reporting the conversation which the latter had had with Lord Halifax yesterday,55 in which Lord Halifax had said that the Prime Minister was sending an emissary to Germany to see Hitler. The Ambassador said that his own instructions were very clear and made it evident that the conversations were to be handled through the British Ambassador in Berlin but that he thought it possible that the British Foreign Office might be sending an official to accompany the British Ambassador to the conversations which he was to have with Hitler.
The Ambassador said that he had another matter of interest to report to me which was that in the pouch he had received from London last night there had been a copy of a cable sent by Lord Perth, the British Ambassador in Rome, to the British Foreign Office on or about February 21 or 22, immediately after the resignation of Mr. Eden. In this telegram Lord Perth had reported his very strong belief that unless the British Government moved quickly, the Italian Government might throw itself completely into the arms of Germany for fear of the results of German expansionist moves in Austria and in Eastern Europe and that, in that event, any possibility of reaching an agreement between England and Italy would be minimized. I said to the Ambassador that it had been assumed in many quarters that the understanding between Italy and Germany had been very much closer during the past two months than it had been prior to that time. The Ambassador replied that on this point he was not sufficiently informed to offer any suggestions, but that from the text of Lord Perth’s telegram it would certainly seem that as of that date no such complete identification of German and Italian policy and interests had been made effective as to prevent separate negotiations between Italy and Great Britain on the one hand and Germany and Great Britain on the other.
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