Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

The French Ambassador called to see me this afternoon.

The Ambassador said that he wished to give me a résumé of recent events in France. He read to me excerpts from a telegram which he had just received from M. Flandin, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In this telegram the Ambassador was informed that the dismissal by Marshal Pétain of Laval had been due to the fact that Laval had been assuming authority which was in derogation of Marshal Pétain’s own authority as Chief of State, and had been proceeding towards a policy of collaboration with Germany far in excess of what Marshal Pétain approved or desired. The word “plot” was not specifically mentioned by the Ambassador, but I drew the implication from his remarks that Laval had entered into some kind of understanding with the German authorities which, if carried out, would have reduced Marshal Pétain to a figurehead without any power to act.

M. Flandin’s telegram went on to say that after Laval’s dismissal, the German Ambassador in Paris, Herr Abetz, had immediately come to Vichy and had made two demands, one that Marshal Pétain receive Laval in order that the two might have a personal conference, and the other that Laval be reinstated in the Pétain Government. The Marshal had flatly refused even to discuss the second demand, but had consented to receive Laval. The conversation between Pétain and Laval, instead of improving relations between them, had caused a complete breakdown in their personal relations. Laval had then gone to Paris with Abetz. Three days later, De Brinon had returned to Vichy from Paris and conveyed what was in essence an ultimatum to Marshal Pétain from the German Government. Apparently the ultimatum consisted of a demand that Laval be reinstated in the French Government or else all cooperation between Germany and France beneficial to the latter would be impossible. Marshal Pétain had again refused to discuss the demands or the reinstatement of Laval and had informed De Brinon for communication to the German Government that if the Germans persisted in this attitude, the terms of the armistice would be violated by them and the Pétain Government would regain freedom of action, for whatever that might be worth. That, the Ambassador said, was the situation at the moment, and it [Page 430] was, of course, clear that the Germans would not now take any steps towards releasing French prisoners of war or relaxing the stringent barriers between occupied and unoccupied France.

S[umner] W[elles]