Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)
The Portuguese Minister called to see me this morning at his request.
The Minister had received an instruction by cable to communicate to me the views of the Portuguese Government, which he understood would be likewise communicated by Prime Minister Salazar to the American Minister in Lisbon.
These views are more or less as follows:
- The Portuguese Government is very much concerned and irritated by the radio and press campaign in the United States which would seem to indicate that public opinion in the United States is bringing pressure to bear upon the American Government to seize the Azores, the Cape Verde Islands, et cetera, as “a preventive measure” in order to forestall German seizure of those colonies. It was the urgent desire of the Portuguese Government that this campaign cease.
- The Portuguese Government wished this Government clearly to understand that, notwithstanding its need on account of its very difficult situation to make a show of indignation with regard to the seizure of the island of Timor by Australian and Dutch forces, it nevertheless had not the slightest intention of throwing itself into the arms of Germany because of this incident. It desired specifically to call the American Government’s attention to the fact that prior to the occupation of Timor, the Portuguese and British Governments had just about concluded negotiations for joint action by the British and Portuguese in the event of an attempted act of aggression against Timor by the Japanese.
- The Portuguese Government wished this Government to remember that, notwithstanding its situation vis-à-vis Germany, the Portuguese Prime Minister had time and again during the past two years publicly reaffirmed the continuation of the traditional alliance between [Page 857] Portugal and Great Britain, and, in the very speech which Dr. Salazar had made a few days ago to the Portuguese National Assembly protesting against the British and Dutch occupation of Timor, he had publicly referred to Great Britain as “Portugal’s ally”.
- The Portuguese Government had taken note of my designation as representative of the United States at the Rio de Janeiro Consultative Meeting.20a The Portuguese Government was very hopeful that a satisfactory outcome of this conference would take place, but it felt that the United States Government would realize how much antagonism would be created in Brazil against the United States were any American occupation of the Azores or of any other Portuguese colony to take place prior to the Consultative Meeting because of the close ties of relationship between Brazil and Portugal.
- The Portuguese Government earnestly hoped that the American Republics would remain neutral in the present conflict. It felt that it would be unfortunate were there any attempt on the part of the United States to bring them into the war, and believed that the American Republics would be far more useful in the war were they to remain out of the war, although, of course, maintaining complete solidarity with the United States under the terms of existing inter-American agreements.
When the Minister had concluded I said that I felt the time had come for a very frank statement on my part without evading any of the issues raised by this communication from the Portuguese Government. I stated that in my considered judgment the rumors and reports now circulating with such violence concerning some imminent action on the part of Germany with regard to France, Spain, North Africa or Portugal or other parts of the world had been deliberately created by the German Government itself in order to create a smoke screen for German action to avert alleged preventive measures by the allied governments or for the creation of a state of confusion in order to make it easier for Germany to strike next. I said it seemed to me that there was little ground for Portugal to complain to the United States with regard to these present rumors and that if she considered it necessary to complain at all, the complaint should be addressed to the Axis powers and not to the United States or its associates.
I stated that the position of the United States had been clearly and frankly and in the most friendly way set forth by the President in his letter to the Prime Minister of Portugal last summer. I said the President had been greatly gratified by Dr. Salazar’s understanding reply to that communication. I said that the position of the United States was essentially that set forth by the President in that communication but that of course the Portuguese Government must realize, and I was sure did realize, that should Germany undertake to attack [Page 858] Portugal or any of its possessions, the United States in such event would take any and all action which it considered necessary and desirable in the interest of its own defense and in the interest of the powers associated with the United States.
I said that I was very happy to receive the assurances given by the Portuguese Government concerning its attitude subsequent to the Timor incident. I said that the United States fully understood and appreciated the very difficult situation in which Portugal found itself.
With regard to the remarks of the Portuguese Government concerning the approaching Consultative Meeting in Rio de Janiero and the attitude of the United States in connection therewith and concerning the desire of the Portuguese Government that the American Republics remain out of the war, I felt it incumbent upon me to make these statements. The United States had not brought any pressure to bear upon any of the American Republics as to their course nor would it bring any pressure to bear. The American Republics could individually or collectively determine their own course as they saw fit in their own national interest. I had no reason to doubt the close racial and sentimental ties between the people of Portugal and the people of Brazil. I felt quite sure, however, in view of the more than a century old intimate friendship between Brazil and the United States, which had never been shadowed by the slightest cloud, that whatever course the United States pursued, it would not be misunderstood by the people of Brazil nor by their Government, and I was quite unwilling to agree that, should the United States find it necessary to act in self defense, both in its own interest and in the interest of the Western Hemisphere, such course on our part would be questioned or be misunderstood by the Brazilian Government and people.
With regard to the expressed desire of the Portuguese Government that the American Republics remain out of the war, I said I felt that the Portuguese Government had failed to appreciate to its full value the experience of many nations during the past two years which, by trusting to their neutrality and by trusting to the tenets of international law, had one after the other made it possible for Hitler to occupy them, to ravage them and to place their peoples in a state of abject slavery. I said it was my earnest hope that the peoples of the American Republics would not pursue this blind and fantastic course which had in so great a part made it possible for Hitler to achieve the easy conquests which he had thus far secured. I said, however, that I felt the American Republics were all far too well aware of the dangers of the moment and of their need for concerted defense of the New World to fall into any such errors as those which had been committed by such Governments as Holland and Belgium.
I reiterated that this Government desired to maintain its close and traditional relations of friendship with Portugal and that we recognized, [Page 859] as I had said before, very fully the difficulties with which the Portuguese Government was confronted. I desired that nothing which I had said be regarded as having been said in an unfriendly spirit, but I said I felt that the best kind of friendship at this moment was to speak frankly in order that opposition might be clearly realized.