740.00119 European War 1939/1370

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

[Extracts]
Participants: Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Great Britain, Mr. Anthony Eden,15
British Ambassador, Lord Halifax,
Secretary of State, Mr. Cordell Hull.

The British Foreign Secretary came in this morning accompanied by the British Ambassador and Mr. William Strang, Assistant [Page 78]Under Secretary of the British Foreign Office. I had asked Mr. Welles to be present but he had found it impossible to join us because of previous engagements. Mr. Winant, Mr. Atherton, and Mr. Dunn17 were present, and Mr. Norman Davis18 joined us later in the conversation.

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I then thought it well to bring up the general subject of the question of North Africa and the position of the de Gaulle organization. I referred to the fact that de Gaulle had apparently entrenched himself with the support of large British newspapers which at times he turned loose on us with bitter criticism of certain attitudes and policies of this Government which did not please him. I said this had the effect of confusing public opinion and diverting it from the main purpose we were determined to accomplish in North Africa, which was the defeat of the enemy in that territory and the liberation of that area from Axis domination. We found ourselves in the position of meeting these attacks head on and found these attacks interfering with the actual prosecution of the war as far as American military action was concerned. I said that, of course, the people of this country are now able to see what we were driving at. They understand thoroughly that we consider the fighting of the enemy our first aim and that we had continually had in mind and never lost sight of the gradual liberalization of conditions in North Africa, promoting and encouraging such steps along these lines as far as might be possible without interfering with the military situation. I then referred to the fact that no statement had ever been made by Mr. Churchill, Mr. Eden, or officials of the Government generally in Great Britain, during the time these attacks were being directed toward American policies, and I felt that it would be extremely helpful in promoting and sustaining good relationship between the British and American peoples if more public concurrence with American policy could be expressed from time to time, and I asked whether the British Government officials could not from time to time drop some appropriate statement with respect to this as we go along. I referred again, as I had before, to the matter of relationship with Vichy which we had pursued for a common purpose but which had been assailed in Great Britain, and said that as these things developed they could drop a comment here and there to show that the two governments understand what they are each trying to work out for a common purpose, thus removing the possibility of misunderstandings, and thus helping immeasurably in keeping the relationship between the two countries on a firm and satisfactory basis. Mr. Eden said that in his first press conference [Page 79]he had spoken of the French situation, and while he readily agreed that something might be done along these lines, I did not gain the impression that either he or Lord Halifax was very much impressed with the advisability of the British Government taking action from time to time to indicate solidarity with the American viewpoint, particularly in this matter of the division among the French.

I then stated that we have information that de Gaulle is making another drive for political power and that in connection with the forthcoming conversations between his organization and the Giraud authorities in North Africa he fully expected to press for control as political head of whatever form of cooperation might result from these talks. I asked if there were anything we could do about that. I said that our own policy and attitude toward the French situation had always been that we did not feel that there should be any supreme political power set up now to exercise control over the French people. We felt that the primary purpose in any French organization should be the prosecution of the war for the liberation of France, and we felt that there should be no form of provisional government set up or recognized, and that any political activities should be kept to a minimum dictated by necessity. Mr. Eden said that it was his understanding that de Gaulle did not want either a government or a provisional government set up, that he does desire a union of all French forms of authority, and that the idea of de Gaulle, Massigli, and Catroux was the establishment of a unified French authority which could deal with situations with respect to French questions all over the world. He asked me whether there would be any objection on the part of this Government to the setting up and recognition of some central authority of this kind. I said that it was our earnest desire to have the French factions settle these questions among themselves; that up to the present time we had recognized the authority of each group with respect to the territory in which they were operating; and that we particularly desired to refrain from introducing political questions into our relations with different French factions. We had always stressed the desire for a military character of any of these French organizations. I said that this method of dealing with the French situation was entirely satisfactory to us and that our primary consideration was to avoid any step which would give rise to the placing of control of French political matters in the hands of any group which might attempt to carry over such authority into metropolitan France itself in a way which would prevent the free expression of the French people when they had obtained their liberation. Mr. Eden asked if the French get together and agree on a unified authority which might deal with questions affecting all territories now under French control if such an arrangement would be satisfactory to this Government. I said that it would seem to me perfectly possible for [Page 80]them to agree on certain things and certain aspects of things, but that we must always consider the true relation of such a unified action; that it would not be possible for them to be considered as having political authority with respect to the disposition of the French people or French territories before it is possible for the French people to reestablish by their own will their own Government. Lord Halifax then put the following question which he divided into two parts:

(a)
Was it desirous for Giraud and de Gaulle to get together?
(b)
In getting together and making it clear that the formation of their organization was purely temporary and did not prejudice any future authority for France, was it possible for them to form some organism comparable to the French National Committee in London?

I said that if such a committee were formulated it was absolutely essential to avoid the picture that was presented by some of the refugee governments in London which will try to go back to their countries and attempt to go through the transition period in that country and to carry on their authority which they have continued to exercise while they were refugee governments. I said that particularly in the case of France which had no government it seemed to me that it would be inadvisable for any political power to be assumed by such an organization. Mr. Eden said that it was their view that the British Government would say “no” to any question of a Government of France, even provisional, but did not object to a rather larger French National Committee which would be composed of a joint group of people from both sides; that the British Government would consider that they were not officials nor clothed with any official authority but that they were merely place holders temporarily dealing with questions which might affect French interests everywhere, and that he sincerely hoped, although he doubted the real possibility of such an eventuation, that there would be some such meeting of minds between the two factions. I then referred to some of the experiences we had had with the French authorities, and told of the difficulties some of our military people had had in New Caledonia19 where the political authorities had objected to measures the American military Commander considered absolutely necessary for the defense of the island to such an extent that the military Commander had found it necessary to proceed regardless of the objection of the French political head. I pointed out that of course in measures relating to the war we could not be subject to French political authorities in places where we have American troops for the prosecution of the war. Mr. Eden said that they had had similar experiences and he fully recognized the necessity of separating the military considerations from the political. [Page 81]I then brought up the matter of the recent events in French Guiana20 and explained how necessary it was for us to deal with French officials who were willing to cooperate with us, particularly in that area right in this hemisphere surrounded by nations, such as Brazil, with which we had inter-American arrangements and who were only too willing and ready to come into the situation with their armed forces if necessary, a picture which we desired by all means to avoid. I asked that inasmuch as the official in command of the military forces in Cayenne had pledged allegiance to General Giraud that the Giraud appointee as Governor be permitted to take control of the situation as we desired to avoid by all means clashes or public disturbances in that area. Neither Mr. Eden nor Lord Halifax was familar with that particular region but indicated that they could quite understand how it was necessary for us to deal with cooperative officials in that area. There was some discussion at this point of the Martinique situation21 and the position of Admiral Robert as compared with a similar situation entailing the position of Admiral Godefroy and the French fleet at Alexandria. I explained very briefly some of the steps we had taken to endeavor to have Admiral Robert come over to the side of the United Nations, and Mr. Eden said that in view of their inability to accomplish very much with Admiral Godefroy he did not feel that they were in a position to lay any complaint at our door with regard to the Martinique situation, although he recalled that there were certain merchant ships and tonnage there which would be extremely useful at this particular time in the war situation.

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C[ordell] H[ull]
  1. Mr. Eden was in Washington for several days during March for an exchange of views with the United States Government on the war situation. For correspondence regarding his visit, see vol. iii, pp. 1 ff.
  2. James C. Dunn, Adviser on Political Relations, and member of the Committee on Political Planning.
  3. Chairman of the American Red Cross.
  4. For correspondence regarding the policy of the United States regarding the protection of French Island possessions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, see Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. ii, pp. 687 ff.
  5. For correspondence regarding interest of the United States in the adhesion of French Guiana to the United Nations cause, see pp. 249 ff.
  6. For correspondence relating to aid given by the United States in securing the transfer of control of French West Indies to representative of the French Committee of National Liberation, see pp. 219 ff.