Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Secretary of State

Participants: The Acting Secretary of State
Mr. George Bidault, French Foreign Minister
Mr. Henri Bonnet, French Ambassador
Mr. William Phillips64
Mr. Freeman Matthews65

I received Mr. Bidault and the French Ambassador in my office at 10 o’clock this morning and opened the conversation by saying how much Mr. Stettinius had appreciated all that Bidault had done in [Page 692]contributing to the success of the Conference. The Minister seemed pleased and thanked me, adding that he had enjoyed his association with Mr. Stettinius.

The President’s Press Release

Mr. Bidault then referred with great satisfaction to the President’s press release following his call at the White House yesterday afternoon. The statement, he said had gone even further than he had hoped, and he was certain that it would have a most excellent effect in France.

French Military Assistance in the Far East

I mentioned that among the points which had been touched upon at the White House was that of French military assistance in the Far East in the war against Japan. I reminded Mr. Bidault that while the President had expressed his general approval to French military association with us in this theater, he had emphasized that the problem was a military one and would necessarily have to be judged on its merits by the military authorities. I said that in the circumstances it was up to General Mac Arthur to decide just how much and where the French military contribution could be best utilized. The Minister mentioned that there were two French divisions ready for immediate transportation to the Far East. In reply to my inquiry as to whether there are Senegalese troops among them, he admitted that this was probably so, although there were also substantial numbers of white French. He made it clear that the French divisions could be utilized anywhere in the Far East, and there was no intention of limiting their contribution to attacking the enemy in Indo-China. I reiterated that this matter would be placed before our military authorities immediately.

Syria and Lebanon

I said that we were considerably disturbed over reports which were coming to us from Syria and Lebanon, and that a rather explosive situation seemed to be developing as a result of French troops which were being sent to the Levant States. We realized that some of these troops were merely replacements, but our reports indicated that in addition to replacements the forces were being augmented. I then read to the Minister a paraphrase of the instructions which I had sent to Ambassador Caffery on April 30th for presentation to the French Government.66 This message expressed the various reasons for the interest and concern of this Government:

That it would be extremely unfortunate for disorders to occur in the Levant States when a supreme effort is being made by the [Page 693]Allied forces, or in the near future, when re-deployment to the Far Eastern theater of war will make the Near East a highly important avenue;
That an effect out of proportion to its intrinsic importance might be created at this time by an even minor act of a great power which might be regarded as provocative, and this in turn might be an issue of first importance at San Francisco;
That the application or even threat of force by France would give rise to doubts throughout the world in regard to the intention of the major United Nations to support their enunciated principles by force.

The message concluded with the statement that we consider that any increase in French forces in the Levant States could not in the absence of military necessity be more ill-timed. Mr. Bidault listened attentively, and the Ambassador summarized the entire despatch in French in a remarkable piece of interpretation. The Minister did not answer specifically the points raised. He spoke of the responsibility of the French to maintain order. He referred to the presence of nearby British troops and that if any foreign troops were to be withdrawn they should all be withdrawn simultaneously. I interrupted by assuring him that I was not referring to a withdrawal of French troops but merely the dangers involved by augmenting their present forces.

Displaced Poles

I mentioned that one of the problems immediately before us was in connection with two or three hundred thousand Poles who were caught behind our armies in Germany. The question was what to do with them; whether to return them to Poland or to allow them to move through our lines in a westerly direction. Probably large numbers of them would prefer the latter course rather than to be sent back to the Russians. I said we had been wondering whether the French could make any use of these Poles. There was the problem also of feeding them. Another suggestion was that some of them at least might be of use in working the coal mines in the Saar, which were now nearly at a stand-still on account of a lack of labor. The Minister did not express any decided views, although he thought that some Poles might be permitted to enter France. Already he said there were many Poles in France and that the trouble with them was that they tended to hold together in groups and did not assimilate very well with the French people. Politically, therefore, there might be some hesitation to allow many newcomers. However, he saw the possibility of their use in the coal mines.


M. Bidault said that he would like to set forth his ideas with regard to the treatment of Germany. He said that he understood that the [Page 694]thinking of the United States and of the British on the long term treatment of Germany—he was not referring merely to the occupation period—had not crystalized but was still in a fluid state. He said that he himself had formerly thought that Germany should be divided up into a number of pieces but that he had revised his thinking on this. He has, however, some definite ideas: the Rhineland and the Ruhr and Westphalia should, he was convinced, be separated from the rest of Germany. On the other hand, there were certain definite objections to putting that whole area into a single state. He thought the separate parts of it should be treated differently:

As to the Saar region, France did not desire to annex it but was determined to have the Saar coal.67
North of the Saar there is an agricultural area over which France feels she must have definite control for security reasons. This area included only the left bank of the Rhine up through Cologne and possibly one or two bridgeheads across the river. It was the area through which France had so often suffered military invasion. If it is placed in the hands of some international organization, the occupation of it might end by some “majority vote” against France. He emphasized that what France wanted was control and not annexation (though he did not define this difference). He said this would not mean slavery nor deportation for the population. While some elements of the population, such as Gestapo members or those who might preach a German resurgence and unification, might be deported from the area, it was his expectation that the local population would remain there. The French, he said, again wish to control this agricultural area north to Cologne without any restrictive international supervision.
He then came to the Ruhr. This region, he said, was the source of power and wealth of Germany and he felt should be definitely placed under the control of an international regime.

If a single Rhineland-Ruhr-Westphalia state is created, M. Bidault said, the standard of living in that area would probably be higher than the rest of Germany, its population would be privileged and it would attract more people from other regions of Germany. It conceivably could become another Prussia or Piedmont and form the nucleus or rallying point for a new strong, unified Germany. Under an international control, if such control were set up, the Russians might not agree with the western Europeans as to the policy to be applied. Therefore, as he had said before, he was opposed to the creation of a single Rhine-Ruhr state under international control. Germany will, he believes, in the nature of things, look to the west [Page 695]for hope and particularly to the Rhine area and he does not wish to see a powerful state established which will play one country off against another in typical German fashion, thus dividing the Allies.

In reply to a question, M. Bidault said that it might not be necessary to distinguish between the Saar and his agricultural area on the left bank of the Rhine though apparently what he wants in the Saar is only the control or ownership of the mines, whereas he wants complete security control in the area north of it. He admitted that he has not yet thought out the details. He did not specify what the nature of the international regime to govern the Ruhr should be but he did say in reply to a question that he was opposed to Germany having heavy metallurgical and machine tool industries or any substantial chemical industry. He said the Germans should be allowed to have industries such as textiles and in general “enough to let them live”.

His views with regard to the treatment to be applied to the remainder of Germany have not developed. The German people, he said, are badly shocked and there will be no elements prepared to take over a government of the country. He believes that we should wait some months to see how conditions develop before deciding whether the country should be divided into one or more states.

In reply to a question as to whether France desired to utilize German labor as a form of reparation, he said that he had not definitely made up his mind. He thought, however, that a number of Germans, particularly those military elements who knew the job, should be utilized for clearing France of the many thousands of mines which have been laid throughout the country. He said that Dautry, the Minister of Reconstruction had estimated that it would cost ten billion francs, ten years labor and fifty thousand dead finally to clear France of mines.

In concluding his remarks on Germany, M. Bidault reiterated that he had merely wanted to present these strong views of his Government with regard to the Rhineland and he did not seem to expect an immediate answer as to the American position. He was told that, as he had intimated, our ideas on the long term territorial treatment of Germany have not yet crystalized.

French Penetration in the Val d’Aosta 68

After discussing the question of French reinforcements being sent to Syria and the Lebanon, I said that there was another question I should like to bring up. We are much disturbed at the situation prevailing along Italy’s northwest frontiers and the resulting unrest and [Page 696]the tension there. General Eisenhower has asked the French military authorities, I said, to withdraw French forces in northwest Italy across the Franco-Italian border as Field Marshal Alexander’s forces assume control of the area. The French commander in that region has received orders from General Devers to withdraw his troops to the frontiers but he states that he is awaiting instructions from the French Government. Meanwhile, reports indicate that French troops in the province of Turin have increased and that French troops continue to be infiltrated under military cover in the Val d’Aosta region. There are also reports of annexationist propaganda being carried out in the several regions occupied by the French troops. Alexander has considered the situation sufficiently serious to recommend that the question be taken up with the French on a governmental level.

I said that Ambassador Caffery had spoken to General de Gaulle and the latter has assured him that France has no territorial ambitions in this region other than very minor frontier adjustments which he hoped to take up amicably through regular channels with the Italian Government at a later date. Mr. Caffery has also recently left a memorandum on the subject with M. Jeanneney. The Department had instructed him to take this action at the request of SHAEF. I emphasized our concern over these developments particularly in view of the situation in the Istrian peninsula and the importance we attach to the application to this area of the principles of pacific adjustment of territorial plans as set forth in my public statement of May 1268a which M. Bidault had presumably seen. What is needed, I said, is that the French Government should send instructions for the withdrawal of French forces in northwest Italy and endeavor to stop any irresponsible French annexationist activities in that area.

M. Bidault replied that the question was largely one of “amour propre” in view of Italian occupation of France in 1940 and the fact that France was invaded through those valleys. He said he came from the region in question and was familiar with the situation there. He agreed completely with General de Gaulle that France should have no annexationist claims to the area and referred to the plebiscite of 1860 and the fact that part of the region had been given to the King of Italy as a hunting preserve. He said that he thought there should be a minor rectification affecting two villages but not the Val d’Aosta itself. He said that France wants to establish friendly relations with Italy and that such a policy is the only sensible one for both countries. Therefore, any claims the French may have would be adjusted through normal channels. He endeavored to make light of the present situation [Page 697]and spoke of the habits of intelligence officers—French, American, British, Italian Partisans, et cetera, who circulated throughout the area reporting all sorts of rumors and implied that such reports should not be exaggerated. I reiterated that what is needed to solve the present tense situation there is for the French Government to send instructions to the French military commander to withdraw to the frontier. M. Bidault promised to look into the question immediately.

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Special Assistant to the Secretary of State.
  2. Director, Office of European Affairs.
  3. See telegram 1776, printed in vol. viii , section under Syria and Lebanon entitled “Policy of the United States regarding problems affecting the inter-national status of Syria and Lebanon”.
  4. For documentation relating to central administrative machinery in Germany and discussions with the French regarding the separation of the Ruhr, the Rhineland, and the Saar from Germany, see vol. iii, pp. 861 ff.; for documentation regarding the German coal situation, see ibid., pp. 1521 ff.
  5. For documentation relating to representations to the French Government to withdraw its troops from northwest Italy, see pp. 725 ff.
  6. Department of State Bulletin, May 13, 1945, p. 902.