Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Villard)


Mr. Allen1 said that on instructions from his Government he would like to give us the present British thinking in regard to the situation in French North Africa. He said that a conference had recently been held in London of the principal British consular officers in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, with a view to taking stock of the rising tide of nationalism and its general implications in the Mediterranean area. The Foreign Office had carefully considered the results of this conference and would be interested in our reaction to them.

The general conclusion reached by the consular officers was that nationalism in French North Africa was a growing force which had to be reckoned with, but while the situation was serious it constituted no immediate threat to the security and stability of the region. The principal danger point was in Algeria, where trouble was anticipated in the near future. In Morocco the Nationalists were also active and disorders were expected, although not on the scale which one might find in Algeria. The problem in Tunisia was not so acute as in Algeria and Morocco.

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The first tendency of the Foreign Office was to regard the matter as sufficiently serious to call for active steps by the British Government. A tentative decision had been reached to approach the French Government and point out the dangers of a nationalist uprising with the consequent instability along the strategic North African coastline. The British were concerned for two reasons: (1) the possibility of general chaos, which might be exploited by the communists, and (2) the possible emergence of weak Arab states in place of the French controlled territories of today.

On careful reconsideration, however, the British Government had concluded that it would be better not to take up this matter with the French at this time and to let them pursue their present policies in the area. The reason for this was that the French would probably be able to control the situation successfully, however much one might disagree with their methods, and no other means of assuring stability in the region were at present discernible. Any attempt by the United Nations to intervene in the picture, or to turn the territories into trust areas, would bring in the Soviet Government with all the resulting complications.

The British did not feel that French policy in North Africa could be regarded with approval; France was mistaken if she thought she could bind her empire more closely by repressive measures. Nationalist impulses were increasing and it was inevitable that sooner or later the French Government would have to take them into account more fully. Nevertheless, it was the opinion of the British Government that it would be undesirable to attempt to discuss this matter with the French until or unless there were better prospects for a solution of the problem.

Mr. Allen asked whether we had any views on the situation. He said that his Government was satisfied that our consular officers in North Africa were pursuing the same policy as the British officers, namely, to give no encouragement to nationalist leaders. At the same time he felt that an exchange of views on the matter would be useful.

I said that we warmly welcomed this expression of views on the part of the British Government. In the main, our thinking was very similar. We too had given consideration to approaching the French, but we had not reached the same negative conclusion as had the British. We were still considering the matter and had in mind the possibility of approaching the nationalists at the same time, urging them not to adopt extreme measures and to beware of the dangers of allying themselves with the communists. I said that we had thought of making a simultaneous approach to both the French and the nationalists, informing each side of what we were doing, but that no decision had yet been taken.

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Mr. Allen said that his Government would be interested in discussing this matter further with us and exchanging views from time to time. He said he would report our conversation to London and that we might look for a further suggestion to go over the matter again informally. I said we would be glad to consider the matter at any time, since our policies seemed to coincide, and that we might give further thought to the possibilities of making our views known to the French.

  1. William Denis Allen, Counselor of the British Embassy.