Memorandum by Mr. Perry N. Jester of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs
Proposed Re-Opening of Negotiations With the Fighting French Concerning the Post-War Disposition of the Fueling Installations at Pointe Noire
On September 16, 1942 a memorandum of agreement was signed at Brazzaville by General Fitzgerald for the United States and Monsieur Laurentie, Secretary General of the Government of French Equatorial Africa, for the Fighting French, regarding the construction, maintenance, control and future disposition of the air base at Pointe Noire, French Equatorial Africa. Article nine of this agreement concerns the installation of gasoline storage tanks and pipelines, and the final sentence of this article provided that the “final disposition of all installations will be the subject of further negotiations between the two countries”. This agreement was not considered sufficiently specific as regards all the points involved, and especially the French National Committee in London did not agree to the action specified by the last sentence just quoted of Article nine. The French National Committee claimed that in accordance with an agreement reached with the State Department, these installations [Page 594]should revert to the French State without cost after the war. This point, along with others requiring clarification, was the subject of conferences held in London on October 2, 3, 4 and 5, 1942 by representatives of this Government and the French National Committee. (Please see the report of the Air Transport Command by Lieutenant Colonel Merrick and Lieutenant Colonel Fixel transmitted to Major General George under date of October 14, 1942.44)
The eventual disposition of the installations in question was extensively discussed at these conferences, but no agreement was reached on this point, the French remaining adamant. Monsieur René Pleven, the Vice President of the French National Committee, is reported in the minutes of a conversation with Lieutenant Commander Kittredge, on October 5, 1942, to have stated that:
“He (Mr. Pleven) felt however, that the agreement negotiated with the State Department and confirmed by Mr. Berle’s letter of August 27, 1942, had formally determined that the installations constructed or established by the United States military authorities for war purposes in French territory would revert to the French Government without compensation at the end of the war. The question raised in the last sentence of Section 9 of the Brazzaville agreement had been settled by the decision of the State Department. This was a point which the French National Committee felt, therefore, could not be discussed by the French National Committee with the representatives of the War Department. If further discussion of this point seemed advisable it would appear necessary for the War Department to raise the question with the State Department.”
By transmitting his report and complete file on this subject to the Department of State, Lieutenant Colonel Merrick has thereby, on behalf of the War Department, raised this subject for further consideration by this Department.
On November 18, 1942, Mr. Sheets and Mr. Case of Socony Vacuum called at the Department to raise the question of the undesirability in connection with the principle and policy involved, and as evidenced in the case of the Pointe Noire base, of allowing petroleum installations abroad, erected at United States Government expense, to fall into the hands of foreign governments and hence of foreign competing interests in the post-war period. (See memorandum of conversation of that date attached as enclosure no. 1.45)
At a conference in Mr. Berle’s office on November 30, 1942, attended by representatives of the War Department, Mr. Murray, Political Adviser, and Messrs. Villard and Jester, (please see memorandum of conversation attached as enclosure no. 246), it was decided as [Page 595]desirable that an effort should be made to reopen the negotiations with the Fighting French and endeavor to obtain “a better deal”. (Please see paragraph 3, page 1 and paragraph 1, page 4.)
At a conference on December 2, 1942, presided over by Mr. Thornburg and attended by representatives of the War Department, the Socony Vacuum Oil Company, and Messrs. Villard and Jester of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs, it was agreed, in connection with discussion of a “Proposed State Department Program Regarding Petroleum Installations Abroad Erected in Connection With the War Effort”, (attached as enclosure no. 347), that the re-opening of the negotiations with the Fighting French should be recommended with a view to obtaining agreement for the removal after the war by the United States Government of all installations erected at public expense, if no other disposition suitable to American interests could be agreed upon at that time. (Please see paragraph 1, page 5, of the memorandum of conversation dated December 2, 1942, attached hereto as enclosure no. 4.47)
As a tentative suggestion of the approach that might be made (possibly by means of instructions to the American Ambassador at London for reference direct to the French National Committee), it might be pointed out:
- That subsequent to the prior agreement cited by the French National Committee, which was made with a view toward indicating our friendly interest in the future welfare of France and its Empire, it has become apparent that the operations of our military forces overseas were expanding in ever widening orbits and requiring installations in an ever increasing number of countries. It has therefore become necessary to adopt a uniform policy with regard to the postwar disposition of installations and bases erected in all of these countries at the expense of the American people. We could not permit the reversion of any such Government owned and constructed equipment to the French State without according the same concession to all other similarly concerned countries, and such action is not now regarded as feasible, especially since lend-lease agreements are being entered into with all the United Nations for the extension of such material assistance as the American people are able to give. Accordingly it is desired that the memorandum of agreement of September 16, 1942 regarding the Pointe Noire installations should be amended to provide for the right, reserved by this Government, to remove all structures and equipment erected or installed at public expense subject to the usual restoration of the land to its original condition immediately prior to the beginning of these operations. It [Page 596]might also be agreed, however, that the option to remove such structures and equipment would not be exercised if arrangements could be made, following the termination of the war, suitable to the United States Government and to the then duly constituted Government of the French State, for the maintenance and operation of these facilities by commercial interests in such a manner as to best provide for the mutual interests of the French territory concerned and the American people.
- It might be further explained informally that this Government fully appreciates the position of the French National Committee in this matter, as brought out by Monsieur Pleven in the discussions in London on October 5, 1942, and especially its attitude toward all matters concerning oil and the granting of facilities for post-war trade in petroleum products. It would appear, however, that the suggested arrangement provides an entirely free hand both to the post-war Government of the French State as regards future arrangements, and to the United States Government in safeguarding assets acquired with public funds and in protecting American rights and interests. The point might also be touched upon that in as much as the French National Committee could not enter into any commitments for the French State concerning the post-war period, it was at least morally obligated not to accept any concessions on behalf of the State involving economic arrangements applicable to the same period.
It should be obvious without the necessity of emphasis that the failure of the Committee to agree to these proposals could result in a reduction of the plans heretofore contemplated for the construction of the air base at Pointe Noire, and might even affect the extent of lend-lease assistance (assuming an integration of policy by this Government) which is otherwise provided for but also extended on behalf of the American taxpayers.