740.00119 European War 1939/434

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

The French Ambassador12 called this morning. The Ambassador told me that he had tried to see me urgently yesterday at my house but that inasmuch as I was at the Department at the time, he could not reach me until I had left for lunch. The reason for his desire to see me yesterday was to inform me that his Government desired to appoint Monsieur Paul Reynaud as Ambassador to the United States to replace Monsieur de Saint-Quentin. Subsequently a further telegram had been received by the Ambassador cancelling the earlier instruction and requesting him to remain.

The Ambassador then asked if I had any information with regard to the terms of the Italian armistice.12a I told him that I did not except in very general terms and that I was not certain that the early information sent the Department by Mr. Biddle could be regarded as accurate. The Ambassador said he had no word in the matter from his Government.

The Ambassador then commenced to speak about the general situation in France showing the utmost contempt for and opposition to the decisions reached by the present French Government. After some questioning on my part, he expressed particular bitterness with regard to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Monsieur Baudouin. The Ambassador said that he was beginning to hear reports that Monsieur Baudouin was the real cause of the policy pursued by the French Government in its capitulation. I asked him if he could explain, since this was his opinion, why Monsieur Paul Reynaud had brought him into his own Cabinet. The Ambassador replied that Monsieur Paul Reynaud had undoubtedly been in close contact with Monsieur Baudouin during the time that the former was Minister of Finance since Monsieur Baudouin was one of the French Inspectors of Finance, a group of men whom the Ambassador said were outstandingly competent. While the Ambassador did not state so specifically, I gained the very definite impression that he believed Monsieur Baudouin, notwithstanding his financial situation, had succumbed to German influence.

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I told the Ambassador that I felt it was obligatory upon me to ask him a very frank question and that was how the Ambassador could explain the formal and specific assurances conveyed to this Government through him the week before,13 as well as through Ambassador Biddle in Bordeaux, to the effect that the French Cabinet had unanimously voted never to permit the French fleet to pass into German hands, and, nevertheless, the terms of the armistice which the French Government had now signed apparently threw the entire fleet directly into German hands. The Ambassador at first attempted to quibble by stating that the terms of the armistice contained the solemn assurances on the part of Germany that the French fleet would never be utilized by Germany against England. I inquired of the Ambassador whether he believed that these assurances were of equal value as the assurances given by Germany after the Munich agreement that she would seek no further territorial domination of Czechoslovakia, as well as the other official assurances so solemnly proclaimed by Germany time and again and which time and again had been cynically disregarded at the first appropriate moment. I further asked whether the Ambassador believed that the German statement in the armistice terms that Germany reserved the right to make claims against the French fleet when peace terms were negotiated did not in itself, apart from the other consideration I had mentioned, involve a direct violation by France, through her signature thereto, of her official assurances to us. The Ambassador threw his hands in the air and said he had never known of this provision. He seemed utterly dejected and without a further word to say in defense of his Government.

The Ambassador gave me every indication that he believed the continuation in power of the present French Government was a matter of only a short time and that probably thereafter the government of the extreme right, perhaps presided over by Monsieur Laval,14 would come into being. He made no reference to French balances in this country nor did he ask any question as to what the policy of this Government might be with regard to the French Government after the armistice had become effective.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. Count de Saint-Quentin.
  2. Armistice agreement between France and Italy, June 24, 1940; for text, see Documents on American Foreign Relations, July 1939–June 1940, vol. ii, p. 436.
  3. See message handed to Under Secretary of State Welles on June 18, p. 456.
  4. Pierre Laval, ex-Premier of France.