The Consul General at Tunis (Jernegan) to the Secretary of State 1

No. 176

Subject: Relations With the Residency General

The cordial attitude which apparently existed a few months ago between the Residency General and the officers of the Consulate General seems to have given way to a feeling of suspicion and distrust on the French side which makes the frank exchange of political views difficult. The cause of this distrust appears to be the circulation by the French Security Services of entirely unfounded reports as to the alleged political activities of officers of this Consulate General.

It will be recalled that soon after the arrival of Resident General Louis Perillier, I conferred with him on two occasions. During these conversations Mr. Perillier seemed entirely open and frank, interested to learn my reactions to his program and frank in explaining his difficulties. However, during my last conversation with him, held at his request (reference my despatch 1312), I had the impression that the Resident General did not wish to take me so fully into his confidence, that he kept to a general justification of his policies, and was not interested in learning my reactions.

Mr. Raymond Jacquet, Director of the Resident General’s Cabinet, was similarly very cordial to Consul Dorman soon after the former’s arrival in Tunis. At that time Mr. Jacquet suggested frequent meetings and frank exchanges of views on the current situation. In recent weeks, however, it has been difficult for Mr. Dorman to arrange an appointment with Mr. Jacquet. The last such appointment consisted in a brief question-answer period which lasted approximately half an hour and which was continually interrupted. Mr. Jacquet seemed anxious to terminate the interview and he volunteered almost no information of a political nature.

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Mr. Jean Darche, recently designated as Assistant Director of Cabinet, has also shown a certain reluctance to discuss the political situation except in the most general terms. Mr. Darche, like Mr. de la Chauviniere3 and Mr. Jean-Louis Brisset,4 is a Quai d’Orsay man and as such is not part of the Resident General’s personal entourage which consists of officers of the cadre of prefects. On the one occasion on which Mr. Dorman was able to lead out Mr. Darche, the latter commented simply that when he arrived in Tunisia, he thought the Tunisians should be granted their independence. Since that time he had revised his opinion, and he now felt that they were entirely incapable of handling even internal autonomy.

When Mr. Brisset returned from a trip to Paris approximately two months ago, he indicated to Mr. Dorman that he would be pleased from time to time to discuss the political situation with him, that conversations of a political nature might be carried out, in his presence, with Mr. Darche or Mr. de la Chauviniere. He stated that these Quai d’Orsay officials were qualified to discuss the political situation in Tunisia with us, while such officials as Jacquet were not. Three days after the conversation Mr. Dorman telephoned Mr. Brisset for an appointment and was informed that Mr. Brisset was very busy but that if the matter was urgent he might spare a few minutes.

Apparently the reason for suspicion toward the American Consulate General by the officials of the Residency General was revealed in a conversation between Mr. Jacquet and Mr. Dorman on November 2. After a few introductory remarks Mr. Dorman asked about the recent activities of Salah ben Youssef, to which Mr. Jacquet replied, “I should ask you that same question. You know more about him than we do.”

By way of explanation, Mr. Jacquet stated that he had recently received reports which indicated that American consular officers had been seeing nationalist leaders. When asked for a specific example, Mr. Jacquet referred to one such report which stated that Salah ben Youssef had visited me at my villa in Gammarth approximately one month before. According to the report, ben Youssef arrived at my house at eleven o’clock one night and remained until four o’clock the next morning. Mr. Dorman assured Mr. Jacquet that such a report had no foundation whatsoever, that any such meetings with nationalist leaders would take place during office hours at the Consulate General, and that if such meetings should take place we would in all probability [Page 1804] mention the fact to the appropriate “Residency official, thereby saving them the expense and the embarrassment of relying on obviously inaccurate informers.

Mr. Dorman again emphasized the importance of close relationships between the American consular officers and the Residency officials and added that unless close personal contact was maintained, falsified reports such as the one cited would lead to suspicion and distrust. Mr. Jacquet asked if Mr. Dorman was aware of the request by the French authorities of Algeria for the recall of the American PAO.5 Mr. Dorman replied that he had been informed of the incident, but that apparently the French authorities had leveled charges which were entirely unfounded and which they were consequently unable to prove. It was to avoid just such situations, Mr. Dorman added, that the Consulate General wished to be on close terms with the Residency General. Mr. Jacquet agreed and, although he stated his appointment calendar was extremely full these days, he hoped that such close relations could be maintained outside the office.

Mr. Jacquet pointed out that any contacts which the American consular officers might have with Tunisians, no matter how discreet, might well be used by the Tunisians to forward their own interests. As an example, he referred to the distribution by the USIS office of the Arabic edition of “A Government by the People” which, he stated, had been distributed to every caid in Tunisia. This pamphlet, Mr. Jacquet continued, was innocuous, but one Tunisian newspaper lifted several sentences from their context and the result appeared to be a strong case for Tunisian independence. Mr. Dorman remarked that two weeks prior to the distribution of this pamphlet to the public, several copies had been deliberately sent to officials at the Residency. Since the Residency officials, and in particular the Chief of the Information Services, did not see fit to comment on what might appear to them to be inappropriate for further distribution, the PAO proceeded to distribute the pamphlet on a large scale.

The following day I made a point of calling on Mr. Dufresne de la Chauviniere, Minister Delegate to the Resident General, Mr. Perillier being absent on his trip to Sfax, Gafsa, and Tozeur. My purpose in calling on Mr. de la Chauviniere was to help lay the ghost of my reported midnight visit from Salah ben Youssef, although my pretense was to continue the series of conversations on the political situation which I had been having with the Resident General. Mr. de la Chauviniere passed off my reported visit by Salah ben Youssef lightly and I was not sure that he was convinced of its falsity, although he said [Page 1805] he had no criticism to make of my activities. From the point of view of eliciting political information, I felt that the conversation was even, more unsatisfactory. Mr. de la Chauviniere gave me a long, general dissertation on the situation, adding little or nothing to what the Resident General had told me two weeks before, and his answers to my questions tended to be indirect and unenlightening.

On November 15 Mr. Dorman again talked with Mr. Jacquet, who had been apprised of my visit to Mr. de la Chauviniere. Mr. Jacquet asked Mr. Dorman if he was aware of the reports concerning the PAO officer in Tunis which were being circulated by a secretary whose services at the USIE office had recently been terminated. Mr. Dorman replied that he was aware of two such stories which the secretary concocted: (1) that the Tangier Conference,6 which Mr. Sabini attended, was a ruse to get him out of the country gracefully at the request of the French Government and that he would continue on to the United States and (2) that the USIE was a center for nationalist propaganda. Mr. Dorman added that both these stories were ridiculously false since Mr. Sabini did return from Tangier, and prior to employing the only Tunisian translator at the USIE library we had requested the Director of Public Education for help in selecting a translator qualified in English, French, and Arabic—a request to which we had received no response. Mr. Jacquet did not pursue the subject further.

For the record, it should be stated that all officers of the Consulate General have been careful to avoid becoming associated with Tunisian nationalists. We never seek them out, and our only contacts occur when they take the initiative in calling on us. These calls almost invariably take place during business hours and at the office. The American side of the conversation is limited to listening, asking occasional questions and, usually, getting in some sort of plug for Franco-Tunisian understanding.

The only nationalist of importance with whom I have had an interview since my arrival in Tunis is Hedi Nouira, Assistant Secretary General of the Néo Destour, and, with Mr. Nouira’s consent, I reported the substance of that conversation to the Resident General the following day.

It is believed that the unfounded reports from the Security Services are motivated by: (1) an inherent French distrust of the American Consulate General and (2) a group of overzealous, imaginative agents who hope for recognition or promotion by initiating reports, no matter how fantastic they may seem.

John D. Jernegan
  1. Copies of this despatch were sent to Paris, Algiers, Rabat, and Tangier.
  2. Dated October 23, p. 1797.
  3. Edouard Dufresne de la Chauviniere, Minister Plenipotentiary Delegate to the Residency General at Tunis.
  4. Chief of the Diplomatic and Cultural Section of the Cabinet of the Residency General.
  5. The reference here is to John A. Sabini, Vice Consul at Tunis who served as Public Affairs Officer (PAO).
  6. Regarding the Tangier Conference under reference here, see the summary report on the Conference in McGhee’s memorandum of November 6, p. 1573.