Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)
The French Ambassador19 called to see me at his request this afternoon.
The Ambassador said that he had read in the papers my press statement of several days ago saying that inquiry had been made of the Government of Vichy with regard to the reports that the French Government was sending shipments of supplies for the use of the Axis troops in North Africa. The Ambassador said that he had telegraphed his Government that he had requested this appointment with me and had asked full information before seeing me. This, he said, he had just received.
The Ambassador then proceeded to read me a telegram from Admiral Darlan which was a rosy-colored version of Ambassador [Page 130]Leahy’s report, concluding with the surprising statement that Admiral Leahy had expressed great gratification for the information given him and that Admiral Leahy had said that “this information would undoubtedly be satisfactory to the United States Government”.
I said that my best answer to this was to give the Ambassador Admiral Leahy’s report so that he might read it himself. The Ambassador did so. I then said that he could see for himself that Admiral Leahy had no cause to express gratification and no reason whatever to indicate that this Government would be satisfied with this report.
I said that I regarded the situation which had arisen as the most serious one which had developed in relations between the Vichy Government and the Government of the United States. I said that what had now taken place meant that the Government of France, which we had endeavored to assist in every possible way during the past year and a half, and notwithstanding the unbroken and traditional record of friendship of over 150 years between our two peoples, was now openly furnishing assistance to the enemies of the United States. I said that it was inconceivable that the Ambassador could assume for a moment, or that his Government could assume for a moment, that, if this was not immediately and completely checked, the present policy of the United States towards France could continue.
The Ambassador then engaged in a very long harangue. He said he admitted the unsavory character of the information received, but that this Government should not forget all that the Vichy Government had done during the past year and a half to resist German pressure and to refrain from making available the French Fleet and French bases to Germany. He said that the shipments which, it was admitted, had been made to the Axis powers were very small. He urged that this Government should not lose its sense of proportion. He reiterated the argument of Admiral Darlan that if this had not been done the Germans would have seized the port of Bizerta.
To all of this I replied that the argument with regard to Bizerta was so absurd as hardly to merit serious consideration. I said it was tantamount to the French Government telling us that they were sending three divisions to fight with the Germans in Russia in order to prevent the Germans from forcing them to send out all of their able-bodied men to fight with them. I said that, in so far as proportion is concerned, the issue is so serious as to overshadow any other issue that could be raised. I said that, in so far as the material actually shipped was concerned, this Government had many means of obtaining information other than from British sources or from our American observers in North Africa, and that I was sorry to have to say that I was [Page 131]very definitely under the impression that munitions had been shipped to the Axis forces, in addition to food supplies and trucks.
I said that the Vichy Government had had two alternative courses to pursue. One was that of adhering strictly to the terms of the armistice20 and making it clear to the Germans that it would agree to nothing beyond those terms. That, I said, would have been the honorable course to pursue and the course which would have merited and retained the confidence of the American people. The other was the policy of supine collaboration, which could inevitably end only in complete domination by Germany of France and everything in France. The second alternative, unfortunately, seemed to be the course upon which the French Government was now bound.
I said to the Ambassador that the views of this Government would be communicated to the French Government in writing and that we would await a reply to that communication.
The Ambassador brought up a good many other matters, such as the two French tankers chartered by the Portuguese Government in the Mediterranean, the sending of a Red Cross ship, and the negotiations with the Maritime Commission. I said that I regretted that it was impossible for me to discuss these matters, since everything was now contingent upon the reply which the French Government would make to the communication I had mentioned.
- Gaston Henry-Haye.↩
- Armistice Agreement between Germany and France signed June 22, 1940, and between Italy and France signed June 24, 1940. For text of the former, see Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–1945, series D, vol. ix, p. 671; for text of latter, see Documents on American Foreign Relations, vol. ii, p. 436, or the New York Times, June 26, 1940, p. 5.↩