740.0011 European War 1939/14007½

Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Welles) of a Conversation With the British Permanent Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Cadogan)

I gave Sir Alexander first to read the copy of the letter sent by Dr. Salazar to the President in reply to the letter which the President had addressed to him.5 I said I believed that this was a matter which might well be discussed between the President and the Prime Minister not only on the military and naval issues involved but also more specifically from the standpoint of foreign policy.

Sir Alexander read the letter and said that it seemed to him to be completely satisfactory. He had been afraid that a good deal of resentment had been aroused in Portugal and that he felt, as he had already sent us word last week, that the President’s letter had cured this resentment and that now that he had read Dr. Salazar’s reply he was completely satisfied that that was the case.

I said that in that connection I desired him to read the texts of the messages recently interchanged between the President and President Vargas of Brazil and I then gave him the two messages to read.6 I said that he would note that the particular issue of whether Brazilian forces could be utilized outside of the territory of Brazil—not merely from the standpoint of Brazilian policy but more particularly from the standpoint of the practical nature of the question involved—was a matter which President Vargas had asked should be dealt with in the staff conversations now in progress between the Brazilian military authorities and our own General Staff. I added that I had every reason to believe that the Brazilian Government would be completely helpful in the event that Portugal asked for our assistance in the defense of the Azores and that a Brazilian gesture through the sending of a token force to assist the United States forces would have a tremendously helpful effect upon Portuguese opinion and do much to mitigate the counter effect of German propaganda in Portugal.

[Page 346]

I then said that I knew that our two Governments were in agreement that one of the major issues that we should now discuss at the meeting between the President and the Prime Minister was the question of the Far Eastern situation.

I said that the British Government had been closely informed throughout the past four months of the conversations which had been in progress between Secretary Hull and the Japanese Ambassador in Washington.7 I said that I had informed Lord Halifax8 two weeks ago that I had stated to the Japanese Ambassador8a that the Government of the United States believed that no further useful purpose would be served by a continuation of these negotiations since Japan had now embarked upon a policy of military aggression and military expansion which was diametrically opposed to the policies which it had been agreed upon in the negotiations to which I had referred should be regarded as the basis for any agreement which might result from such negotiations.9

I stated that Lord Halifax had been fully informed of the proposal made to the Japanese Government on July 24 by the President through the Japanese Ambassador in Washington,10 and that Lord Halifax had further been informed by myself on July 31 of the fact that by instruction of the President I had advised the Japanese Ambassador to inform his Government that the President’s proposal is now to be understood as embracing Thailand as well as French Indochina.11

Sir Alexander Cadogan said that he was personally fully posted on all of these matters. He inquired whether the Government of the United States had as yet received any reply to the President’s proposal. I said that it had and that that reply had been made in the form of two written documents handed to Secretary Hull by the Japanese Ambassador on the evening of August 6.12 I said that Secretary Hull, when he received these proposals, had not even read them, but had merely informed the Japanese Ambassador of his personal regret that the policies of Japan had made a continuation of the conversations he had held previously with the Ambassador impossible and had indicated that he was in no hurry whatever to consider the messages handed him or even to read them.13

I stated that before giving these documents to Sir Alexander Cadogan to read I wished to inform him of a conversation which I myself [Page 347] had held with Mr. Wakasugi14 the evening the latter had left Washington to proceed to Tokyo to report directly to Prince Konoye.15 I then related in full detail to Sir Alexander on the conversation I had had with Mr. Wakasugi and thereafter handed him the Japanese counter proposals to read.

I said that it seemed to me that the time had come when the Government of the United States had to reach a very definite decision as to the course it should pursue in the Far East. I stated that the Japanese Government now realized because of the economic measures taken by the Government of the United States that the period during which the United States had shown extreme patience in its dealings with Japan was terminated. I said that the Government of Japan further realized through the conversation I had had with Mr. Wakasugi that in the opinion of the United States if Japan pursued her present policy of conquest aimed at military domination of the entire Pacific area, a conflict between Japan and the United States—whether it came sooner or whether it came later—was inevitable. I said that it seemed to me, consequently, that while the Japanese counter proposal contained many features which were completely unacceptable to the Government of the United States and which I assumed to be equally unacceptable to the British Government, nevertheless I felt that it was wiser, if only to obtain delay, to utilize this counter proposal as a means of protracting the conversations between the two Governments of Japan and the United States in order to put off a show-down (if such was inevitable) until the time that such a show-down was from our standpoint more propitious.

I said that I wished to emphasize my own belief that should this be the course that was to be adopted there should not be the slightest relaxation by the United States Government of any of the economic or financial measures of sanction which it had now imposed upon Japan nor the slightest change in any of the military or naval steps taken by the United States and to which reference was made in this Japanese counter proposal.

I said that I also wished by direction of the President to make it clear that the Government of the United States did not believe that even should Thailand be occupied by Japan such occupation should be made a casus belli by Great Britian. I said that in the opinion of both the War and Navy Departments of the United States the chief objective in the Pacific for the time being should be the avoidance of war with Japan inasmuch as war between the United States and Japan at this time would not only tie up the major portion of, if not the entire, [Page 348] American fleet but would likewise create a very serious strain upon our military establishment and upon our production activities at the very moment when these should be concentrated upon the Atlantic. This applied, of course, even more strongly in the case of the American fleet.

I said, consequently, I thought that one of the matters which the President and the Prime Minister should determine was this question of the policy to be adopted in the Pacific. I trusted that the British Government would take the same view as that which I had indicated to Sir Alexander Cadogan: namely, the dragging out of conversations on this latest Japanese proposal to the utmost without the slightest relaxation of the military or economic measures which had been taken and without the slightest commitment to Japan which could be interpreted as our accepting in any way those provisions in the Japanese proposal which we regarded as unacceptable. I said that the first paragraph of the Japanese counter proposal provided the contingent agreement on the part of Japan that she would not occupy Thailand nor any other territories in the South Pacific. I said that so long as the negotiations continued it was to be assumed that that contingent commitment would not be broken by Japan. That in itself, I felt, was a great advantage.

Sir Alexander said that he personally was entirely in agreement in what I had said and with the course which I had recommended for adoption. He said that he believed that Mr. Churchill would likewise be inclined thereto. He said, however, that Mr. Churchill had recently apparently come to believe that Japan had reached the point where she was willing to take on at the same time the Soviet Union, Germany, the Netherlands East Indies, Great Britain, the Dominions and the United States. He felt that only the stiffest warning from the United States could possibly have any concrete counteracting effect.

He then said that only last week the British Government had for the first time made a definite formal commitment to the Dutch Government with regard to the Netherlands East Indies. He said that up to that time the Prime Minister had been unwilling to make any such commitments because he was not assured of the position which the United States would take in the event that Japan attacked the Netherlands East Indies and that Great Britain then went to the latter’s assistance. The Foreign Office had pointed out to the Prime Minister that the United States Executive could not make any such commitment without the consent of Congress and that such prior assent by the Congress was not conceivable. Finally and reluctantly the Prime Minister had authorized the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Eden, to make the following commitment to the Dutch Government, namely, that if Japan attacked the Netherlands East Indies, the Netherlands Government, fully aware of the resources which Great Britain had in the Far East, could expect Great Britain to give all possible assistance to the Netherlands East Indies within the limits of its available resources.

[Page 349]

I inquired whether it was clearly understood in this regard by the Netherlands East Indies that this meant only that Great Britain would assist her with the resources which she had available at Singapore and at other nearby places. Sir Alexander replied that the Netherlands Government understood precisely that and that there was no commitment by Great Britain insofar as time or quantity of assistance were concerned.

Sir Alexander then said that Australia had insisted that Mr. Churchill obtain from the President a commitment that in the event that Japan attacked the Netherlands East Indies and that Great Britain then went to the latter’s assistance in the manner above described the President would agree that he would then request of the Congress authority necessary to make it possible for the United States to assist the British, the Dominions and the Netherlands East Indies forces to resist Japanese aggression. Sir Alexander said that Mr. Churchill would raise this question with the President.

I said that of course I was unable to indicate what the President’s decision would be were this proposal to be made to him. I stated that in my own judgment any such commitments were undesirable, first, because there was room to believe that even in the manner proposed the commitment which it was suggested the President should make implied the bringing of pressure on the Congress by the President at a given moment to undertake a declaration of war; second, because of my belief that were a world situation resulting from Japanese aggression in the Netherlands East Indies to arise as above mentioned, public opinion in this country would be the determining factor in any decision which might be reached by the legislative branch of the Government and that from all present indications the opinion of the American people is mounting very sharply and very rapidly against Japan’s present trend and hostilities in which the United States would be involved would prove inevitable as I had stated to Mr. Wakasugi were Japan to continue upon her present policy of military expansion. If that estimate on my part is accurate any such agreement on the part of the President as that indicated would have no practical effect but if it became known would have a reaction on American public opinion altogether counter to that which the British and Australian Governments in that event would desire. I repeated, however, that this was a matter which the President would have to determine himself.

I then took up with Sir Alexander Cadogan the old question of our policy towards France and towards French Northwest Africa.16 I said that in my own judgment the policy which the United States had [Page 350] been pursuing during the past year had been of great practical value not only to the United States but to Great Britain as well. I said that what we had done had made it possible for the French people to feel that they were not completely abandoned by all of their former friends and that consequently there was no reason for them to resign themselves supinely into the hands of the so-called collaborationists in the latter’s policy of subservience to Germany and to German ambitions. Furthermore, at times I believed that the personal influence of the President and of his Ambassador in Vichy had been responsible for a stiffening of the morale of Marshal Pétain and for the consequent defeat of the plans and intrigues of Laval, Darlan and company. More important than that, it had resulted in a continuing and close contact with the French authorities in North Africa, for the presence in those territories of a very large number of American observers under the guise of American Vice Consuls and for the existence of a situation there today which meant that every kind of resistance by the local authorities was being interposed against German infiltration and actual domination over the French ports and French military forces in Morocco and French Northwest Africa. I said that from all of the information available Hitler definitely intended at some time not very remote an occupation of Spain and Portugal and a subsequent occupation of strategic points on the Atlantic coast of Northwest Africa. If, when the time came, this took place, the French authorities either resisted or delayed proceedings, it would at least gain valuable time at what would be an extremely critical moment. I said that all of these advantages that I had mentioned seemed to me of decided value.

Sir Alexander said that he was of the same opinion and emphasized particularly if the German occupation of North Africa was undertaken the great value any delay in the German move would be to the British and American interests.

I said that if this was the opinion of the British Foreign Office I regretted to have to say that it did not seem to me to represent the opinion of other individuals and departments of the British Government. I said that every time the United States announced any step in the policy which it had been pursuing there was either bitter criticism on the part of the Ministry of Economic Warfare in London or on the part of a very considerable portion of the British press. If the British Government believed in its considered judgment that the policy which we were pursuing was wise and to their advantage, I felt that the least that we could ask was that there be avoided a constant carping criticism which had been so long carried on. Sir Alexander replied that he was well aware of this, but that it had unfortunately been the case that almost always when the United States announced the adoption of some new phase of its policy towards France or Northwest [Page 351] Africa someone in the French Government would undertake some unfortunate move such as the speech of Admiral Darlan at the beginning of June, and that that was the reason why criticism had taken place in London. I said that for the sake of argument I was willing to consent that that might have been the case, but that my Government had felt that the British Government could at least avoid the appearance of British official criticism and complaint because of the policy we had been pursuing.

I then discussed briefly the relations between Brazil and the United States and expressed my regret that there appeared to be no improvement in relations between Brazil and Great Britain. I said that I thought the maintenance of the most intimate relations between Brazil and the United States was not only of vital importance to both of those countries but of great importance to Great Britain as well. I said that the Brazilian Government, however, was becoming more and more embittered towards Great Britain because of the accumulation of grievances such as the British attitude towards the Brazilian armament program and the constant interference by the British shipping authorities with Brazilian shipping activities. I said that I hoped that Sir Alexander felt as I did—he emphatically declared that he did and that it might be possible for the British Foreign Office to prevent this constant badgering of the Brazilian Government by other agencies of the British Government. He assured me that he would do what he could in this regard.

We discussed the situation in Turkey briefly, the information which Sir Alexander gave me being identical with that received from Mr. Eden some four or five days ago.

I then stated that one very important matter, which I thought was in fact fundamental, was, I felt, a question which should arise in the discussions between the President and the Prime Minister. I reminded Sir Alexander that some six weeks ago the President had sent a personal message to Mr. Churchill expressing the opinion that the British Government should make no secret commitments to any of its Allies without knowledge of the United States or without the agreement of the United States.17 I said no reply to that message had as yet been received.

Sir Alexander said that that was one of the main matters which Mr. Churchill desired to take up with the President. He told me that he had with him the texts of all of the agreements which Great Britain had entered into and that he would be very glad to go over all of them with me. He said, however, that he would give me the most specific and positive assurance that the British had entered into no [Page 352] agreements and had made no commitments which had to do with frontiers or territorial readjustments with one possible exception. He stated that this one exception was an oral statement which had been made to the Government of Yugoslavia prior to the Yugoslav coup d’état.18 He stated that at that time the British Minister to Yugoslavia had been instructed to state to the Yugoslav Government that the British Government believed that at the conclusion of the war the subject of the jurisdiction over Istria was a matter which might well come up for reconsideration. He stated emphatically and specifically that this was all that had been said, that it did not constitute any firm commitment and that no mention whatever had been made of either Goritza or Trieste. He repeated that this was the only commitment which bore in any sense whatever upon territorial readjustments. He added that both in the case of Poland and in the case of Czechoslovakia the British Government had made it specifically clear that in their agreement to sponsor the reestablishment of the independence and integrity of those two countries such agreement involved no decision as to territorial jurisdiction of those countries. He said that in the case of Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium the commitment had been made for the reestablishment of those nations; in the case of France the agreement entered into at Tours between Paul Reynaud and Mr. Churchill19 had merely been that Great Britain committed herself to strive for the recreation of the greatness and independence of France. I stated that I was very much heartened by receiving this declaration from Sir Alexander Cadogan. I said that he would remember what damage had been caused in 1917 by the sudden revelation of the series of agreements which Great Britain had previously entered into at that time with her then Allies and that the rumors which had now been current alleging that the present British Government had entered into similar secret agreements created both disquiet and suspicion on the part of the people of the United States who believed that the United States was rightly concerned in British victory. Sir Alexander said that he fully appreciated this fact, and that Mr. Churchill had it very much in mind. We agreed that consideration might be given to sending out a statement at an appropriate moment by the British Government in regard to this question.

I then said that as the final topic which I wanted to take up with Sir Alexander Cadogan was my desire to mention the question of the formula for the temporary agreement between Great Britain and the United States to cover the assistance being given by my [Page 353] country to Great Britain under the terms of the Lease-Lend Act.20 Sir Alexander said that he had already received the text of the draft formula21 as approved by the President the day before he left London and that he would like very much to reread it. I gave him a copy to read and likewise gave him to read a memorandum of Mr. Acheson’s conversations with Professor Keynes on July 2822 and a copy of Professor Keynes’ letter to Mr. Acheson under date of July 29.22

I stated that I knew there was no need for me to undertake a dissertation upon fundamental economics in this conversation. I felt sure from my conversations with Sir Alexander during the past few years that he and I saw eye to eye with regard to the need, when the time came, for world reconstruction to be undertaken, of the freest possible economic interchange without discriminations, without exchange controls, without economic preference utilized for political purposes and without all of the manifold economic barriers which had in my judgment been so clearly responsible for the present world collapse. I said that I had unfortunately received the impression that Professor Keynes represented at least some segment of British public opinion which was directing its energies towards the resumption or continuation by Great Britain after the war of exactly that kind of system which had proved so fatal during the past generation. I said that it seemed to me that if any healthy world were to be reestablished, it would be imperative for Great Britain and the United States to have an identity of purpose insofar as healthy financial and economic policies were concerned. I did not see how we could possibly undertake divergent policies in that regard.

With regard to the Lease-Lend agreement, I felt that the present formula provided exactly that kind of assurance which I considered so necessary. I said that one of the factors which had poisoned British-American relations during the past quarter of a century had been the British debt issue and that I felt that an enlightened policy on the part of the United States should be a policy which would prevent a recurrence of that issue. The formula, as drafted, accomplished just that. I could see in it only advantages to both countries and none of the disadvantages which would obtain from the policies which the selfish nationalists in both countries apparently desired to continue.

Sir Alexander Cadogan said that on this particular matter he could only speak his personal opinion. He said that he himself found [Page 354] the formula exactly what was required. He wished me to know—off the record—that he had been bitterly opposed to the Ottawa agreements23 and that experience in his judgment had shown that they had proved fatal. He said he saw no hope for the future unless our two countries agreed no matter what the obstacles might later prove to press for the resumption of liberal trade practices and for the abolition of discriminations at the earliest possible moment. He said, however, that he wished to make it clear that on this issue the Prime Minister himself could speak with the President and that he did not yet know what the Prime Minister’s considered judgment might be.

Sumner Welles
  1. Letters of July 14 and July 29, 1941, exchanged between President Roosevelt and the Portuguese President of the Council of Ministers (853B.014/41a, 414/5).
  2. Messages contained in telegram No. 525, July 10, 1941, 9 p.m., to the Ambassador in Brazil, and telegram No. 954, July 28, 1941, 6 p.m., from the Ambassador in Brazil (810.20 Defense/1327a, 1331).
  3. See Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, pp. 323 ff.
  4. British Ambassador in the United States.
  5. Adm. Kichisaburo Nomura.
  6. See memorandum by the Acting Secretary of State, July 23, 1941, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 522.
  7. See memorandum by the Acting Secretary of State, July 24, 1941, ibid., p. 527.
  8. See memorandum by the Acting Secretary of State, July 31, 1941, ibid., p. 539.
  9. Ibid., pp. 548 and 549.
  10. See memorandum of a conversation, August 6, 1941, ibid., p. 546.
  11. Kanama Wakasugi, Minister of the Japanese Embassy at Washington. For memorandum of conversation, August 4, 1941, see Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 540.
  12. Prince Fumimaro Konoye, Japanese Prime Minister.
  13. See vol. ii , section under France entitled “Interest of the United States in political and economic conditions in French North Africa.”
  14. See telegram No. 2600, July 14, 6 p.m., to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom, p. 342.
  15. See vol. ii , section under Yugoslavia.
  16. For reports of this meeting, see telegrams No. 1622, June 12, 1940, 9 p.m., and No. 1643, June 14, 1940, 1 a.m., from the Ambassador in the United Kingdom, Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. i, pp. 246 and 248, respectively.
  17. Approved March 11, 1941; 55 Stat. 31.
  18. Vol. iii , section under United Kingdom entitled “Negotiations for Lend-Lease Agreement…”
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Agreements concluded at the Imperial Economic Conference, 1932, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxxxv, pp. 161–231.