Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

Participants: The Secretary of State
The Right Honorable John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia
Sir Owen Dixon, Australian Minister

The Prime Minister of Australia, accompanied by Sir Owen Dixon, called today after arriving in Washington yesterday.

Mr. Curtin promptly commenced the conversation by saying that so far as our two countries are concerned the American Government entered the war against Germany to defend certain basic principles and that our countries should be able to cooperate in a mutually satisfactory manner. Mr. Curtin said that Australia had a special interest in the islands adjacent to Australia, including the Dutch East Indies and New Caledonia. He had nothing very concrete to suggest. [Page 193] The Prime Minister was a little slow in picking up the subject of the Australian–New Zealand Agreement, except in the most general way.

I replied to the Prime Minister’s remark about our entrance into the war in support of certain basic principles by saying that the outstanding principle involved was that of self-defense and self-preservation against the German war movement, as well as that of Japan.

I then recounted the history of our attitude towards Germany as Germany spread her conquest over the continent of Europe and steadily pursued the purpose of capturing the British Isles and, with it, the British fleet, which would have given Germany control of the seven seas and other continents. This, I said, would have left the United States in a critical state of danger in the Atlantic, to say nothing of the danger from the Japanese in the Pacific to ourselves and to Australia as well.

I added further that, as regards the Pacific, this Government had stood for principles of world-wide application against Japan’s often-announced plans and efforts to dominate the Pacific area, economically, politically and militarily, and that all countries in the Pacific area were in danger equally with the United States. I said that this Government for long years has stood for the broad principles of world order under law, justice, morality and economic well-being and that these principles include the equality of nations before law, the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means, et cetera.

After describing the policies of the American Government in the Pacific during the past years, I came directly to the Australian-New Zealand Agreement of January 21, 1944 and said that this Government has had no discussions with other governments in Europe or in the Pacific in regard to the allotment of territory, much less the settlement of such questions during the war.

I said that any casual or any informal remarks on this subject by officials of this Government naturally related to the post-war period and were not intended to bring up such question for consideration or for final decisions during the fighting period. I said that this Government has not been a party to any proposed local or regional plans or movements relating to the Pacific area, especially in the area of Australia and New Zealand. I said that, in connection with the problem of dependent areas, we in the Department have been considering the possible desirability of establishing regional commissions in the Pacific as well as in other areas for the purpose of promoting the welfare of the native peoples involved, but that such consideration has not reached the stage of discussions with other countries.

I said that naturally we were almost flabbergasted at certain provisions of the Australian–New Zealand Agreement, especially the declarations that nothing must be done about territory anywhere in [Page 194] the Pacific except by agreement with Australia and New Zealand. I said that this agreement would seem to show that Australia and New Zealand have their minds on the whole question of territorial settlement in the Pacific, with special reference to New Caledonia and other areas, while this Government has been deliberately refusing to take up with other nations territorial questions in Europe or elsewhere until the end of the war.

Mr. Curtin tried to make it appear that the Australian–New Zealand Agreement does not contain anything unusual, that it is not aimed at other countries and that Australia and New Zealand in concluding this agreement did not have territorial designs in mind, but rather the formation of a regional organization for the promotion of native welfare in the islands of the Pacific. I said that I must disagree with his statement, as the Australian–New Zealand Agreement seemed clearly to contemplate territorial dispositions. Mr. Curtin no longer denied that the Australian–New Zealand Agreement related to the question of territorial settlements.

I told Mr. Curtin that we have had the impression that Dr. Evatt, the Australian Minister of External Affairs, was peeved because he was not consulted by those who are directly and almost solely concerned with the direction of the war and that Dr. Evatt had brought forward this Australian–New Zealand Agreement apparently with no concern that the war in the Pacific must yet be won.

I emphasized that, as already recited in my personal message, we do not desire a conference of the kind contemplated by Australia while the war is on and hope that this proposed meeting may be postponed until a later date. I told Mr. Curtin that Prime Minister Fraser of New Zealand had expressed to me his entire willingness that the meeting be postponed. Prime Minister Curtin at first indicated that this would be agreeable to him also, but in the same sentence added that there should be a meeting of some kind in the Southwest Pacific to deal with the question of social, economic and political development in this area.

I replied that, of course, our democratic nations must find ways of cooperating together, that we must be patient with one another and must talk out matters to a friendly understanding—otherwise there was little hope for general international understanding.

I once more said that we frankly do not appreciate the attitude of Dr. Evatt on this and other matters and I referred particularly to Dr. Evatt’s action in recording in a formal document a private conversation with the President. The Prime Minister then referred to persons with ambitions in a vague sort of way.

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