The Ambassador in France ( Bullitt ) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 6—1:30 p.m.]
897. Daladier said to me today that the Papal Nuncio had called on Bonnet yesterday and had said to him that the Pope had decided to summon immediately a peace conference to consist of representatives of France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, and Poland. As soon as Bonnet had transmitted this information to him he, Daladier, had sent for the Papal Nuncio and had stated to the Papal Nuncio that France would not participate in any conference held under threat of German guns. He had added that such a conference would be foredoomed to failure.
The Papal Nuncio had replied that he regretted to inform him, Daladier, that the Pope had already decided to make an appeal for such a conference and that it was too late to change this project. Daladier said that he had answered that he regretted this; that France would refuse to participate; and that he felt the Pope would destroy by such action the immense influence in the world which had been obtained for the church by the last Pope since it would be clear to every one that the Pope would be engaged merely in pulling Italian chestnuts out of the fire and preparing a new Munich.
After some hours the Papal Nuncio had again seen Bonnet and had informed him that he had been mistaken. The decision of the Pope was not irrevocable and the opinion of the French Government would have great weight in the Papal decision.[Page 180]
Daladier went on to say that he believed this action of the Pope had been inspired by Mussolini whose position was becoming more and more difficult due to the opposition of the King, the Prince of Piedmont, Badoglio,82 Balbo83 and a large portion of the army, and a large section of the population of Italy. It might be possible that Poland had inspired this move by the Pope but no intimation to this effect had reached him.
We discussed at great length the Russian position and Daladier repeated to me the information that I transmitted in my telegram No. 893 of May 584 last night to the effect that he had telephoned to Corbin85 and given him orders to make the strongest representations possible to the British Government with a view to obtaining assent to the French proposal.
In conclusion, he said that he would this afternoon have instructions sent to the French Chargé d’Affaires in Moscow, Payart, in order to make certain that the Soviet Government was still prepared to accept the French proposal.
In this connection Daladier once again expressed his distrust of Bonnet and said that he might replace him in the immediate future by Champétier de Ribes, Minister of Pensions, in whose integrity and loyalty he had complete confidence.
In commenting on the general situation Daladier said that he had considered Beck’s speech86 admirable and that if the Soviet Union could now be brought into the circuit he believed there was a considerable chance of preserving peace. If on the other hand the Russians should withdraw into complete isolation the situation would become tragic and untenable since all resistance to Hitler in Eastern Europe would collapse.
Daladier went on to say that this morning in Ministerial Council before Lebrun87 at the Elysées he had put the question of French policy very flatly. He had stated that the alternative policies for France today were the following: (1) To withdraw behind the Maginot Line and to disregard all events to the east of the Maginot Line. Such a policy would certainly purchase for France at least a year of peace. The alternative policy was (2) to go to war at once in case Hitler should attack Poland or any other state in Eastern Europe. This policy might bring war at once and if any one in the Cabinet should be convinced that this policy, which was his own, was unwise, and that Hitler, having swallowed the states of Eastern Europe would not turn against France he wished he would speak out immediately. He [Page 181] added that at this moment he had looked pointedly at Lebrun, at Bonnet, and at Chautemps.88
No one raised his voice in favor of the policy of permitting Hitler to swallow the states of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
The question of Italy was also discussed. Daladier stated that he had said that, if any man in the Cabinet believed that by giving Mussolini a free port in Djibouti and a seat’ on the Suez Canal, and the 1896 statute in Tunis,89 Mussolini could be persuaded to abandon the Axis he wished he would speak out. No one spoke.
Daladier then said that he believed that it was never good policy to pay blackmail to a bandit. He was certain that Mussolini in spite of minor concessions would cling to the Axis and would demand further concessions specially with regard to Tunis. He therefore was opposed to making any concessions to Mussolini at the moment. He said that the Cabinet had supported him unanimously in taking this position.
Daladier went on to say that he was convinced that Mussolini was in serious difficulties and that the reason why so many prominent German officers and members of the German Government to say nothing of members of the Gestapo were in Italy at the present moment was because of the fear in Germany that Mussolini might be set aside by the opponents of the Axis policy.
- Marshal Pietro Badoglio, Italian Chief of Staff.↩
- Italo Balbo, member of the Italian Grand Fascist Council.↩
- Post, p. 248.↩
- Charles Corbin, French Ambassador in the United Kingdom.↩
- For text of speech of May 5, 1939, see Polish White Book, doc. No. 77, p. 84.↩
- Albert Lebrun, President of France.↩
- Camille Chautemps, Vice President of the French Council of Ministers.↩
- Signed at Paris, September 28, 1896, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. lxxxviii, p. 717.↩