The Ambassador in France (Bullitt) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 5—9:45 p.m.]
893. For the President and the Secretary. With approval of Ambassador Kennedy I called on Vansittart in London this afternoon.
He was intensely apprehensive with regard to the future policy of the Soviet Union. He said that he feared the dismissal of Litvinov portended the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from an active interest in European affairs and the adoption of a policy of isolation. Such a turn in the policy of the Soviet Union would make certain a collapse of resistance to Hitler in Eastern Europe and the Balkans and the consequences for all Europe and the world would be of the utmost gravity.
I asked Vansittart if he felt that Stalin’s dismissal of Litvinov had been occasioned by the dilatory and almost insulting policy which the British Government had pursued vis-à-vis the Soviet Union since Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. He said that he feared that British policy might have contributed to Stalin’s attitude but he did not know what alternative proposals could be made to the Soviet Government.
I asked why the British had refused to accept the French proposal which the Soviet Government had indicated its willingness to accept. Vansittart replied that he had no knowledge of any French proposal. I expressed my amazement and he said that no French proposal had yet reached the British Government.[Page 249]
I replied that I knew positively that his intimate friend Léger and also Daladier75 felt that the British proposal to the Soviet Union would never be accepted by the Soviet Union; that they considered it ill-advised and calculated to drive the Soviet Union away from a policy of collaboration with France and England and that I was certain that the French Government had expressed these views to the British Government and had made a constructive counterproposal.
Vansittart replied that these views of Daladier’s might have been expressed by Bonnet to Sir Eric Phipps and by Sir Eric Phipps to the British Government in such a watered down form that they had made no impression. He was personally fully conversant with information of the British Government from France and his understanding of the French position in respect of this matter was that while the French were not optimistic that the British proposal would be accepted by the Soviet Government they nevertheless wished the British Government well and approved the proposal.
Vansittart then asked me what was the French proposal and I informed him. He at once stated that he considered the French proposal far superior to the British proposal and asked me if on my return to Paris this afternoon I could say to Léger and Daladier that he believed that Daladier should call personally the French Ambassador in London on the telephone this evening and instruct him to state at once to the British Government in the strongest terms that if the latest British proposal should be rejected the British Government must be prepared to offer immediately to the Soviet Union an agreement on the basis of the French proposal.
Vansittart said that if the British Government should not agree to the French proposal before rejection of the British proposal—which he considered almost certain—further vital days would elapse before any new proposal could be made to the Soviet Government. He, himself, feared so greatly that the Soviet Government was on the edge of adopting a policy of isolation—if such policy had not already been adopted—that he felt not even 24 hours could be lost with safety.
On my return to Paris I repeated what Vansittart had said to me to Daladier and Léger. Daladier at once telephoned to Corbin, French Ambassador in London, and instructed him to make immediately the démarche proposed by Vansittart.
I asked Léger how on earth it could have been possible that the British Government had not received either the French proposal or the true views of the French Government with regard to the British [Page 250] proposal to the Soviet Union. He replied that conversations on this subject had been conducted by Bonnet with Sir Eric Phipps. He added that in point of fact both Bonnet and Sir Eric Phipps were opposed to bringing the Soviet Union into close cooperation with France and England.
I asked Léger if he had had no reply from any representative of the British Government on this subject. He replied that he had talked with the British Minister in Paris (that is to say with the Counselor of Embassy who has the rank of Minister at this post) and had handed to him for the information of the British Government the French proposal and had expressed his views on the subject of the British proposal. He added that it seemed evident from Vansittart’s ignorance of the French proposal that the British Minister had not transmitted this information to his Government. Léger went on to say that he had had this conversation with the British Minister because through delays in Bonnet’s office and Daladier’s the formal French note to the British Government on the subject of policy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union which had been prepared 10 days ago had not gone forward to London until 2 days ago, Wednesday night, at 7 o’clock. This note was now in the hands of the British Foreign Office and no doubt Vansittart would see it tomorrow morning. Meanwhile it appeared that the effort to obtain Russian support might have failed because of the delay.
Léger then read to me a telegram which he had received today from Pay art, French Chargé d’Affaires in Moscow (a man I know intimately and for whose judgment I have great respect). In his telegram Payart expressed the opinion that the dismissal of Litvinov had been occasioned by the proposals which Halifax had made to Maisky on April 14. These proposals from the Soviet point of view merely added insult to injury.
Halifax had made clear to Maisky once more that the British Government was not prepared to guarantee support to the Soviet Union and had proposed that Soviet support to Rumania and Poland should be given only in case Great Britain and France should be engaged previously in war in support of Poland and Rumania and only if those countries should ask for Soviet support.
Payart had been informed that this proposal had enraged Stalin who had considered it a relegation of the Soviet Union to a third rate role unworthy of a great power. It was Payart’s impression that Stalin would withdraw the Soviet Union into a position of complete isolation. He feared that this might be only the first step which might be followed soon by large scale economic agreements between the Soviet Union and Germany.
In commenting on this telegram Léger said that if indeed the Soviet Union should withdraw into complete isolation, the entire [Page 251] effort of the French Government to build up resistance to Hitler in Eastern Europe and the Balkans would collapse, and France and England would face war with Germany and Italy under most terrible conditions. At such a moment British policy would probably become an attempt to buy off Germany by giving her possessions of other powers.
In conclusion Léger said that he considered Beck’s speech admirable in every way. He had telephoned to the Polish Ambassador on behalf of the French Government and had stated to him that he felt Beck, while maintaining a strong position, had done so with a minimum of provocation and the greatest possible skill. He added that the French Government on the basis of the latest military and diplomatic information was of the opinion that Germany would not attack Poland in the immediate future.
- Èdouard Daladier, President of the French Council of Ministers and Minister for National Defense.↩