Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)
The Minister of Portugal called to see me this morning at his request. The Minister handed me a note a copy of which is attached herewith.16
After reading the note I inquired of the Minister what he desired me to understand to be the intention of his Government in addressing this communication to the Government of the United States.
I said to him that I was familiar with the conversation which Secretary Hull had had with him some two weeks ago and I was, of course, familiar with the contents of the note which Secretary Hull had addressed to him in reply to the first note on the subject which the Minister had addressed to the Secretary of State. I said it seemed to me that the statements made by Secretary Hull and the declarations contained in the subsequent note sent by the Secretary of State could not have been clearer nor more specific, and it was consequently difficult for me to understand what was implied by the Portuguese Government when it used the phrase “a generical and vague declaration”. I said surely the Portuguese Government must recognize that the Government of the United States throughout the past nine years had not only upheld by declaration and by the pronouncements of the spokesmen for this Government the principles of scrupulous respect for the independence and integrity of other peoples, and a policy of non-aggression and of non-intervention, but it likewise meticulously carried out these principles in practice in every possible way. I said it was difficult for me to draw any implication from this communication except the implication that Portugal—faced on one side by Germany, which had broken every standard of morality and of international law, had utterly disregarded the rights of independent peoples, had paid not the slightest heed to the neutrality nor the neutral rights of other nations, had occupied and despoiled country after country in Europe, and had made it evident to the entire world that she was set upon a policy of world conquest and of world domination; and faced across the Atlantic by a traditionally friendly power, the United States, which had not only upheld the principles of international law and of respect for the sovereign rights of all other nations, but had scrupulously adhered to such policies and principles—considered the two countries as on a par. I said this surely was not the implication which the Portuguese Government would desire this Government to draw and I would, consequently, like to know quite frankly and definitely from the Minister whether I was to understand that his Government seriously believed [Page 849] that any further assurances were required from this Government that it was not in fact determined to embark upon a policy of aggression and of despoiling Portugal of her overseas colonies and possessions.
I said that I was confident that the Government of Portugal knew very well indeed that, as announced by the President in his recent addresses and as had been announced by the Secretary and others speaking for the administration, the policy of this Government at the present moment in the world’s history was based upon the principle of self-defense and that no interpretation could legitimately be given to this policy from which could arise the conclusion that the policy of self-defense was a policy of aggression or of despoiling others of their legitimate rights.
The Minister said that he felt he could speak frankly with me and that the fact of the matter was that German propaganda was beginning to have its effect upon public opinion in Portugal and that recent speeches in the United States, such as those made by Senator Pepper, and many newspaper articles and editorials which the Germans took pains to see were republished in the Portuguese press, were beginning to make the Portuguese people suspicious that the Government of the United States was going to seize the present opportunity of taking possession of their overseas colonies. He said that the desire of his Government was that this movement on the part of public opinion be checked and that it believed that the only way in which it could be checked was by some categorical statement here which would put an end to it. The Minister said that he felt he should say in all frankness that he hoped that this Government was aware of the fact that German influence existed in certain sections of the Portuguese Government itself and that this influence was one of the chief contributing factors to the disquiet of the chief of the Portuguese Government.
I said that surely the Minister and his Government must be aware of the fact that every word of the President’s speech made it clear that the Government of the United States had not the slightest desire to see any alteration in the sovereign control by Portugal of the Azores and of the other Portuguese colonies.
The Minister said that he was sure his Government had no doubts on that subject, but that to calm the situation and to make their own position easier, they felt it necessary that some more categorical assurance be given.
I said I would give further consideration to the note which had been handed me by the Minister and I would advise him of the conclusions that this Government reached.