862.24/604: Telegram

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

292. Reference our 268, February 21, 6 p.m. We received yesterday evening from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a third person note in reply to the message of the President to Marshal Pétain contained in your 114, February 19, 3 p.m., which I delivered orally to the Marshal on February 21.

A translation of the note follows:

“Vichy, February 24.

Marshal Pétain and his Government fully share the desire and hope of President Roosevelt to maintain unchanged the present policy of comprehension which should in their opinion inspire the relations between France and the United States.

In spite of the difficulties of a situation the exigencies of which were set forth in the note of February 16 and the tragic character of which the President himself recognizes, they have always endeavored on their part to assure in an atmosphere of understanding the continuity of relations which correspond with traditional sentiments.

To this end the French Government affirms once again its will to abstain from any action, under reservation of the obligations resulting for it from the two armistice conventions, which would not be in conformity with the position of neutrality in which it has been placed since June 1940 and which it intends to maintain. It will not (ne saurait) therefore lend any military aid to one of the belligerents in any place in the theater of operations, particularly the use of French vessels for purposes of war (à des fins de guerre) nor all the more, ‘adopt a policy of open assistance to the Axis Powers beyond the terms of the armistice agreement’.

In reply to this assurance, Marshal Pétain has a right to expect from President Roosevelt and the American people a spirit of comprehension and a desire for agreement which are indispensable for the maintenance of a position the affirmation of which answers the preoccupations of President Roosevelt.

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With such an attitude, the French Government hopes for the resumption of maritime traffic in particular and, under the conditions originally stipulated, the resumption of the supplying of North Africa, the satisfactory settlement of the Saint Pierre et Miquelon incident and of course the respect of the rights and interests of France in the various parts of the world. It hopes that the Federal Government will at once put a stop to a press and radio campaign the violence and clearly tendacious [tendentious] character of which are incompatible with the desire expressed by President Roosevelt himself to maintain ‘the present policy of understanding of his Government with respect to France.’

Marshal Pétain is confident that President Roosevelt will find in the foregoing declarations on the reassurances which he hoped to obtain in order to assure between the two countries the maintenance of relations to which the French Government attaches for its part the highest value”.

This note appears to reply to the assurances requested in the President’s message (your 88, February 10, 7 p.m.) with an affirmation that France will abstain from any action incompatible with its position of neutrality and the Armistice conventions, and that it will not lend military aid to any one of the belligerents, particularly by the use of French vessels “à des fins de guerre”.

In an endeavor to obtain an exact understanding of the meaning of “fins de guerre” as used, Rochat was interrogated. He stated that while he is unable to give us an official explanation of its meaning, it is his personal opinion that the shipment of munitions would not be permitted, that there is a question in his mind as to the shipment of trucks and that in his opinion the shipment of supplies and foodstuffs by a neutral to a belligerent is permitted by international law.