862.24/573: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Leahy) to the Secretary of State

214. At 6 p.m. today I obtained an interview with Marshal Pétain and in the presence of Admiral Darlan and M. Rochat discussed current reports that an agreement has been entered into by the French Government to provide transportation in French ships to Tunis of material including trucks for the use of Axis forces in Libya. The [Page 129]Marshal replied that Admiral Darlan would give me full information in the matter whereupon Darlan said that in an effort to avoid a forcible seizure of Bizerta he had agreed to permit the shipment of 200 tons of supplies each week and a total of 500 Italian motor trucks in French vessels to Tunis; that no war materials or munitions have been shipped or will be shipped to the Axis forces via Tunis.

He asked me whether my Government would prefer the shipment of small quantities of food via Tunis to the forcible seizure of Bizerta by the Axis.

I replied that it was impossible for me officially to state the preference of my Government but that in my personal opinion it would be a more friendly action by France and better in the end for France to lose Bizerta by armed attack than voluntarily to give assistance to our declared enemy. He said that as a member of the French Government he could not agree with my opinion.

I informed the Marshal that I would immediately and correctly convey to my Government his statement in this matter and suggested the practicability of avoiding misunderstandings in the future if his Government could give me advance information regarding any similar arrangements or agreements that may be made.

He expressed agreement in principle but I do not expect to get from his Government any such advance information.

[For remainder of this telegram, dealing with French ships in Indochina, see page 676.]