Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Harry H. Schwartz of the Division of African Affairs

Participants: Habib Bourghiba, Leader of the Nationalist Neo-Destour Party of Tunisia.
Mr. Hourani, The Arab Office.
Mr. Andrew G. Lynch, AF.
Mr. Edwin M. Wright, NEA.
Mr. Schwartz, AF.

I. Summary

In an hour and a half’s talk, Mr. Bourghiba presented the case for the independence of Tunisia. He stated the demands which his countrymen insisted that France meet and outlined the future plans of his Party for pressing these demands and attaining Tunisian independence.

His thesis is that both the letter and the spirit of the Treaty of the Protectorate have been abrogated by France; that, rather than permit Tunisia to develop politically and evolve gradually from more and more autonomy to independence, the French have attempted and are still attempting to assimilate Tunisia into the Metropole. As a result of this policy the Tunisians are, and have long been, deprived of all liberties and all rights and Tunisia has been enduring a “state of siege” since 1881.

Bourghiba demands that France grant Tunisia her independence under her legal sovereign (Moncef Pasha Bey, who is in exile in France). Once the Treaty of the Protectorate is dissolved and Tunisia has her own government, another treaty can be made with France and in that treaty Tunisia will be willing to guarantee the rights of French economic interests as well as of all other foreign interests in Tunisia. Tunisia will also be willing to give France strategic bases. Frenchmen and other foreign nationals will enjoy there the same treatment as Tunisians. Bourghiba hopes that Tunisia could continue to employ French functionaries. He emphasized that he was speaking for Morocco as well as Tunisia, adding that Algeria was a different and certainly more difficult problem because of the extent to which it has already been absorbed into metropolitan France.

Bourghiba says that he long ago determined to explore and exhaust every possible peaceful method of attaining these ends for Tunisia. Only when he and his Party are convinced that no other means is possible and that no help is coming from any outside source (and he will neither seek nor accept assistance from communists) will they [Page 63]then attempt armed revolt, a course which will mean death but quite possibly also it will draw the attention of the world to Tunisia’s plight and might even bring about the intervention of the Security Council. In the meantime, Bourghiba has been meeting in New York twice a week with the delegates to the United Nations of the Arab states and he says that those delegates have resolved that the Tunisian case should be presented at the next meeting of the General Assembly.

Bourghiba emphasized that he has no desire to embarrass the policy of the United States whether he enlists our support or not, but he pointed out that regardless of any policy that the United States may have toward France it is to our interest to see that the situation in Tunisia and French North Africa does not degenerate into a problem comparable to the one now existing in Indo-China, particularly as French North Africa is strategically more important to the United States than is Indo-China.22

Bourghiba is planning to return to Cairo in January and hopes to go via England where he plans to speak to various people in the Foreign Office. He has not yet received a British visa but expects that it will be forthcoming as he thinks that the British preferred to let the United States take the lead in this matter. Bourghiba was asked if he had encountered any difficulty in obtaining a passport from the French Legation in Cairo. He replied in the negative, explaining that as he had been able to travel all over the Near East without a passport, the French Legation felt that they might as well give him one.

At one point in his talk Mr. Bourghiba said that the United States had shown sympathy for Tunisia by allowing him to enter and speak his mind. He was told, however, that he should not necessarily draw that conclusion from the fact that he had been granted an American visa because it had long been an American tradition to permit anyone whose presence in the United States does not constitute a danger to the national interest to come to this country and enjoy freedom of speech.

At the conclusion of the conversation he asked Mr. Lynch to give him some word of hope that Tunisia might some day be free. Mr. Lynch replied that he was not in a position to make a statement of the kind desired by Mr. Bourghiba.23

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  1. For documentation on the interest of the United States in Nationalist opposition to restoration of French rule in Indochina, see volume viii .
  2. A brief, undated note from Mr. Henderson to Mr. Acheson, transmitting this memorandum of conversation, reads as follows: “I hope that you can find the time to read Bourghiba on Tunis. This is a situation which I do not like. The French policy in Tunis is opposed to modern ideas of self-government, etc. Nevertheless the international situation imposes apparently an attitude of silence on our part.” (851S.00/12–1946)