740.00112 European War 1939/6755

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Villard)

At Admiral Leahy’s request I called on him today, together with Mr. Canfield of the Board of Economic Warfare, to discuss a conflict of views which had arisen with respect to the sending of fifteen tons of agricultural spare parts to French North Africa and which had been referred to Admiral Leahy with a request for decision. The French Embassy was pressing us for permission to ship these spare parts, which had been purchased some time ago, and in the meanwhile was holding up the disposition of 212 tons of olive oil [Page 368] which had come over from North Africa on one of the accord vessels.

I outlined to Admiral Leahy the circumstances of the case, pointing out that the question of these fifteen tons of agricultural spare parts was being made into an issue by the French, who had been led to understand that the purchase and export of a total of twenty-five tons of spare parts would be authorized under the economic program. I said that there seemed to be a mistaken idea that the olive oil was to be furnished in return for the spare parts, but that regardless of this error, agricultural spare parts was on the original quota lists and, in small amounts, met with no objection on the part of the British. Mr. Canfield then explained that the Board of Economic Warfare did not wish to grant export licenses for this item because agricultural machinery in French North Africa was producing food which eventually reached Germany and because agricultural spare parts were in short supply in this country. He added that the inclusion of any item on the authorized quota list did not imply in any way that export licenses would be granted.

After fully reviewing the facts in the case, Admiral Leahy said that in his opinion it would be desirable to send the fifteen tons of agricultural spare parts and to send them at once. He said that the objective of sending supplies to North Africa at this time was to please the French in every possible way and to remove any sources of irritation. In two or three months, Admiral Leahy said, we may want to send everything we have to French North Africa, or, on the other hand, we may wish to send nothing at all. At this moment, however, it is our objective to help the population of French North Africa and induce the people to think that we are their friends. Such a small item as fifteen tons of spare parts could make no difference whatever in our war economy and would provide a measure of satisfaction to the French. Mr. Canfield thereupon agreed to the sending of the spare parts, but said that this should not constitute a precedent.

Mr. Canfield then said he would like to take advantage of the opportunity to lay before Admiral Leahy a letter to the State Department outlining the Board of Economic Warfare’s understanding of the type of commodities which should be sent in the future to French North Africa under the President’s directive. Admiral Leahy perused the letter until he came to a portion which referred to a possibly enlarged program of supplies provided that the French should agree to certain conditions, such as the sale and export of various strategic products desired by the BEW. Admiral Leahy stopped at this point and said that to demand a quid pro quo for the sending of American supplies was exactly what we did not wish to do. He said that the shipment of goods from America was [Page 369] not to be subject to negotiation as this would defeat the purpose of the plan and fail to produce the good feeling which we desired. Admiral Leahy was confident that the French would give us what they could, of their own will, in any case.

I next took up the question of kerosene shipments to North Africa and described the stalemate in the negotiations for freezing cobalt stocks against a cargo of kerosene from this country. Admiral Leahy said that if the kerosene was needed for local consumption and was not destined for export, it should be sent without delay. If it were possible to obtain assurances that no cobalt would be moved, so much the better; but that need make no difference in our sending of kerosene supplies. I asked Admiral Leahy if he meant that we should send a cargo of kerosene even if we failed to obtain the assurances on cobalt, to which he replied in the affirmative.

Admiral Leahy explained again that right now our policy was to send to the French what they urgently needed in North Africa, even if that policy should be changed later. He reiterated that the object of the economic program at this juncture was to do everything possible to placate the French and that Mr. Murphy was in an excellent position to determine the amounts and types of commodities needed. If the policy should change while the tanker of kerosene was at sea it would always be possible to intercept … the vessel, but the present desire and intention is to give the French the products they need for local consumption in North Africa. If a good feeling could be induced in French North Africa at this time, it might save thousands of American lives, which might otherwise be lost through delays and quibbling over small amounts of economic supplies that could not change the course of the war. Even at the risk of driblets of these supplies reaching the enemy, Admiral Leahy believed that we should proceed as rapidly as possible with getting supplies to the French which they needed.

I mentioned to Admiral Leahy the action of the Board of Economic Warfare in reducing to 150 tons of skimmed milk the 1,100 tons of powdered whole milk which had been previously authorized. Admiral Leahy said that if it were impossible to make the shipment in tin containers, that would be understood by the French, but he could see no reason whatever for substituting skimmed for whole milk. Mr. Canfield indicated that this matter would be taken care of.

Admiral Leahy repeated again the urgent necessity of pleasing and placating the French in every way possible at this time. In two or three months, he reiterated, we would know whether we would vastly increase shipments to North Africa or stop them altogether. He said that he did not know how to make this any [Page 370] clearer, but that if any question remained, he would be glad to ask the President for more explicit directions. Details regarding the various goods to be shipped as well as the amounts needed in French North Africa should, if required, be left to the judgment of Mr. Murphy, in whom the Admiral had the fullest confidence.