711.94/2463a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Japan (Grew)

756. For the Ambassador and the Counselor only. On November 18 the Japanese Ambassador and Mr. Kurusu called at their request.43 The Secretary reviewed what he had previously said in regard to the inconsistency between Japan’s alignment with the Axis and participation by Japan with us in a peaceful program. He dwelt on Hitler’s untrustworthiness, on the likelihood of Hitler’s betraying Japan and on the inevitability of a continued strengthening of armaments by the nations unless we had a clear-cut agreement making plain our peaceful purposes. He referred to our efforts to contribute to the establishment of a peaceful world and cited our forthcoming withdrawal from the Philippines and our decision to bring our Marines out of China.44 He emphasized our desire to work out a settlement with Japan, but that we have nothing to offer except our friendship in the way of bargaining. He discussed briefly our commercial policy and our efforts to induce other countries to reduce tariff barriers. Referring to the expressed desire of Japanese spokesmen to have a controlling influence in Eastern Asia he emphasized that no controlling influence of any value could be achieved or maintained by force. He reviewed what we have accomplished in South America through our friendly policies. [Page 619] The Ambassador tried to draw a parallel between our present relations with Russia and Japan’s alignment with Germany but the Secretary replied that although we are not in sympathy with the Soviet ideologies our desire to defeat Hitler renders us desirous of obtaining help wherever we can obtain it.45

The Secretary said that he did not know whether we could achieve a satisfactory agreement with Japan but that he felt that it would be better for us to take the consequences of failure to reach an agreement rather than to go beyond a certain point. The Ambassador and Mr. Kurusu kept reverting to the points that the two Governments should now try to do something to tide over the present situation, that it might be possible later on for Japan to come around to a more liberal policy, but that they were unable to promise anything further on the part of their Government at the present time.

The Secretary pointed out that it was important to make a start now with the program of reconstruction and get fundamental principles firmly established for otherwise selfish elements would prevent a liberal policy from being realized and we would be unable to gain the confidence of peace-loving people.

Asked whether the Secretary had a concrete formula in regard to the Japanese–Axis situation, the Secretary said that this was a matter for Japan to work out in some way which would be convincing to the American people.

Pressed further by the Japanese for suggestions the Secretary said that if the Japanese should now veer away from coming out in a clear-cut manner on commercial policy, a course in China in harmony with principles of peace and on the question of Japan’s Axis relationship, this Government would be left in an indefensible position if it should attempt to support the proposed settlement.

The Ambassador dwelt on the difficulty of bringing about a rapid change in the course of the Japanese Government and suggested if the situation could now be checked it might be possible gradually to move in the direction of the courses advocated by this Government. Mr. Kurusu spoke of the feeling, which had been caused in Japan by our freezing regulations, that Japan was obliged to fight while it still could. The Secretary asked again whether something could not be worked out by Japan on the Tripartite Pact and what the Ambassador had in mind in regard to the Chinese situation. Only vague and general statements were made by the Japanese in reply to these questions. [Page 620] The Secretary repeated to Mr. Kurusu what he had previously said to the Ambassador about the status of our conversations (See Department’s 747, November 15, 10 p.m.46). When the Secretary mentioned that the British and other governments had a rightful interest in the problems involved, Mr. Kurusu endeavored to draw the Secretary out on the problems in which each government was interested but the Secretary merely said that he had not discussed the matter with those governments and what he might think would be merely an assumption on his part. Mr. Kurusu said that under the circumstances mentioned by the Secretary the relations between the United States and Japan would be at the mercy of Great Britain and China. The Secretary said that there would be no point in our talking to these other governments until we had obtained something substantial in the way of a basis for an agreement. Mr. Kurusu suggested that the situation was so pressing that it might get beyond control. The Secretary agreed and pointed out that our difficulties were augmented by the announcement by Japanese leaders of programs based upon force.

The Secretary asked how many troops Japan wanted to keep in China. The Ambassador said perhaps about 90 percent would be withdrawn but he did not reply directly to a question as to how long Japan wanted to retain the remaining 10 percent there. The Secretary referred to the fact that the presence of these troops was a source of trouble and mentioned that there was a very large number of cases in which American interests had suffered from them.

The Secretary said that it was incumbent upon the Japanese Government to make an extra effort to take the situation in hand and to find some way of extricating Japan from the difficulty in which it had placed itself. The Secretary adverted to the exceptionally favorable opportunity which was offered at the present time for Japan to put her factories to work to produce goods needed by peaceful countries if only Japan could get invasion and war out of its mind.

The Ambassador observed that our conversations had been protracted and it might be helpful if our Government could give the Japanese some hope as our country was strong and great. The Secretary said that the United States had made no threats, that the Japanese armed forces in China do not seem to appreciate whose territory they are in.

In reply to a suggestion that certain Japanese circles considered that we have been responsible for delay the Secretary said that we could more rightfully accuse the Japanese of delays, that he had consistently been available promptly to the Ambassador, and he referred [Page 621] especially to the interruption caused in our conversations by Japan’s movement into Indochina.

Mr. Kurusu asked whether we desired that the status quo ante be restored or what we expected Japan to do. The Secretary replied that if Japan was unable to do anything on the three outstanding points we had discussed, he could only leave to Japan the question of what Japan could do. He added that we desired to see Japan contribute to world leadership for a peaceful program and he felt that the long-swing interests of the two countries were identical. The Secretary asked to what extent it would enable Japan to move along peaceful courses if there should be a relaxation of freezing. The Ambassador suggested the possibility of going back to the status existing prior to Japan’s move into southern French Indochina. The Secretary commented that if we should adopt some modifications of our freezing on the strength of a measure by Japan such as the Ambassador had suggested, the question might arise whether the Japanese troops withdrawn from Indochina would be diverted to some equally objectionable move elsewhere and he added that it would not be easy for him to persuade this Government to go to any great length in relaxing freezing measures unless this Government could be convinced that Japan had definitely embarked on a peaceful course and had abandoned courses of aggression. The Ambassador said that Japan would go as far as it could along a first step as the Japanese were tired of fighting China.

The Secretary said that he would confer with the Dutch and British to ascertain their attitude toward a suggestion such as that offered by the Ambassador.

  1. See memorandum of November 18, 1941, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 744.
  2. See vol. v, pp. 554 ff.
  3. In the memorandum of November 18 as printed in Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 744, the following sentence was omitted (p. 745): “The Secretary replied that it is true that we have contempt for communism and are not in sympathy with Soviet ideologies, but the whole question depends upon how anxious one is to defeat Hitler and we need not be too anxious whose support we enlist to help us to do the job.”
  4. Not printed, but see memorandum, statement, and document of November 15, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, pp. 731, 734, and 736.