Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

The French Ambassador called to see me at his request.

The Ambassador first commented upon the statement I had given to the press earlier in the afternoon27a covering the present status of our relations with the Vichy Government. Somewhat to my surprise, he said he believed it would be most helpful and that he was glad I had issued it.

He inquired whether we had consulted the Government at Vichy before the issuance of this statement. I replied that we had not and [Page 143]that I saw no reason for so doing inasmuch as it was my desire to keep the public in the United States as fully informed as possible of every aspect of our foreign relations during these critical times. I stated that inasmuch as the communications received from the French Government were not quoted, there was no reason, technical or otherwise, for obtaining the agreement of the French Government to the issuance of this statement.

The Ambassador inquired what the other points at issue between this Government and his Government might be. I replied that they were—

  • First. The failure of the French Government to comply with its obligation to this Government to inform us prior to the removal of the Dunkerque from French North Africa to Toulon.
  • Second. The failure of the French Government as yet to give the assurances requested that no German submarines, surface vessels or aircraft would be permitted to enter the territorial waters or territory of the French possessions in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Third. The insistence of the United States that the military stocks of oil supplies, including gasoline, in North Africa should be utilized for civilian purposes and should not be transferred to the Axis powers in North Africa.

The Ambassador took note of these points and expressed no difference of views with regard to our insistence that assurances be given covering these points. With regard to point two, he said probably the most practicable arrangement would be for the United States to prevent by force the entrance into French colonies in the Western Hemisphere of Axis ships or planes. I said that this action certainly would be taken in any event whenever it was found possible and that this did not cover the issue involved.

The Ambassador complained with regard to the reference by the President in his address of the other night to the “Vichy French” and to the President’s charge that the Vichy Government had ceded French Indochina to Japan,27b I made no comment other than that the President’s statements spoke for themselves.

The Ambassador complained again about press attacks in this country on his Government, and I said I thought the best way of preventing a continuance of these attacks was for the French Government to give us the assurances we had requested, which could then be made public.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, February 28, 1942, p. 189.
  2. Reference is to radio address of February 23, 1942; for text, see Department of State Bulletin, February 28, 1942, p. 183.