The Ambassador in France (Leahy) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 17—12:10 a.m.]
245. There follows herewith a translation of a note signed by Admiral Darlan in reply to the message from the President of the United States to Marshal Pétain (Department’s 88, February 10, 7 p.m.) and delivered by me to the Marshal on February 12:
I have the honor to transmit herewith a message which Marshal Pétain would be grateful if you would convey to the President of the United States in answer to his message of February 11.
‘After having called attention to information relative to the use of French ships for the transport via Tunisia of supplies and “perhaps material of war” destined to enemy forces in Libya, you add that if France enters into agreements with such a purpose, she will have by this action alienated herself from the uninterrupted friendly relations with the United States and will have placed herself amongst those nations furnishing a direct aid to the Axis Powers. “Unless,” you conclude, “formal assurance can be given that no military aid whatsoever will be furnished to Germany, Italy or Japan or that French ships will not be used to facilitate the acts of aggression of these countries in any theatre of war whatsoever,” Admiral Leahy will be invited to return immediately to the United States in order to determine the lines of policy to be followed in regard to the “Vichy Government”.[Page 133]
I can not refrain from expressing first the surprise which this communication caused me after the very complete information which Admiral Darlan and I had already given to Admiral Leahy on February 9th.
In the course of the interview that we had on that date we made it clear that there had been transported during the month of January by French ships, at the request of the Italian Government, only 1000 tons (1029 exactly) of food supplies and 50 trucks (56 exactly), this merchandise being of Italian origin and not having been taken in any way from French territory either metropolitan or North African. The assurance was furthermore formally given that no war material whatsoever (including munitions) nor any liquid fuel had been included in these shipment[s].
This detailed information appeared to the French Government sufficient to give all reassurances to the American Government, as the latter could not consider the shipment of such a small quantity of merchandise, the transit of which is, furthermore, perfectly legitimate according to international law, as constituting an appreciable aid to the German and Italian forces.
These assurances appeared also sufficient to put an end to the tenacious [tendentious] campaign which had been launched, especially in London, on the basis of definitely wrong information.
The French Government still hopes that the written confirmation of this information will enable the American Government to estimate more exactly the insignificance of such shipments from military point of view and will also serve to put an end to a campaign which can only have as its purpose an endeavor to place the responsibility for the reversal of the military situation in Libya on the shoulders of third persons.
The facts having thus been restored to their just proportions, I believe that I should call your attention to the following general considerations:
France, who was defeated because she was alone, had armistice terms imposed upon her, the severity of which is in correlation to the temporary nature applicable in general to stipulations of this kind. Events have prolonged and are prolonging this situation beyond any foreseeable period of time—obligations for France resulting there from are such that the primary duty of those in charge of the country’s destiny is to work unceasingly to alleviate them—no one has the right to hold it against them since the very life of the nation is at stake—it is this effort towards adaptation which leads the French Government to seek and to accept certain adjustments in order to obtain equivalents which are essential to the existence and future of the country.
Convinced that it meets with the will of the French people [for?] which it is the only legitimate spokesman, the French Government takes this course fully conscious of its responsibilities and taking into account factual elements which do not always depend upon its will and the consideration of which must override certain of its decisions.
In doing this, it does not violate its other agreements, agreements which in spite of the difficulties of the situation it has always respected and will continue to respect.[Page 134]
It has maintained and will maintain, both on land and on sea, the position of neutrality in which, subject to the obligations of the Armistice Conventions, it has in fact been placed since June 1940.
The French Government would find its task facilitated if the Government of the United States would be good enough to display towards it a spirit of comprehension which would correspond with the feelings and interests of the two countries![’]
While I am personally convinced Marshal Pétain and French public opinion are anxious to maintain the present relations between the United States and the French Government, the absence is noted of any of the assurances requested in the President’s message to the Marshal.