Memorandum by the Secretary of State on US-Japanese Negotiations, 28 August 1941

[WASHINGTON,] August 28, 1941.

The Ambassador of Japan called on the President at the former's request. The Secretary of State was present. The Ambassador expressed his usual appreciation of certain courtesies and considerations shown him and his Government.

He then handed to the President a communication from the Prince Premier of Japan to the President of the United States (copy attached). The President read it with interest and complimented the tone and spirit of it.

The President then spoke somewhat as he did at the last meeting a week ago Sunday about the idea suggested by the Japanese Prime Minister of a personal meeting between the President and the Prime Minister at as early a date as possible for the purpose of having a frank discussion of all important affairs existing between the two countries. The President again spoke of the difficulty of going as far as Hawaii and elaborated on the reasons why it would be difficult to get away for twenty?one days. He then turned to Juneau, Alaska, as a meeting place, which would only require some fourteen or fifteen days, allowing for a three or four days conversation with the Japanese Prime Minister. The only point raised by the Ambassador in this connection was that the conversation be held as early as possible.

The Ambassador then handed to the President a communication from his Government in reply to the communication of the President to the Japanese Government, dated August 17, 1941 (copy attached). The President expressed his keen interest to get this reply and proceeded to read it. At two or three stages he stopped to comment briefly and, as he stated each time, study would later, of course, be given to the subject. For example, he remarked that there was nothing in the note to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing their Army and Navy in the Indochina area while the conversations were going on, even though there was no advance whatever by the Japanese forces. At another point he injected some oral comment to the effect that Japan is in no possible danger from Russia at the present time and he emphasized this very strongly. At still another point he referred critically to the Japanese oil complaints and their baseless nature. He then reminded the Ambassador that under the oil quota allowed Japan by this Government, Japan was in a position to have a number of tankers loaded with oil and transported to Japan if and when it so desired.

At the conclusion of the reading of the communication, the President said to the Ambassador that he could say to his Government that he considered this note a step forward and that he was very hopeful. He then added that he would be keenly interested in having three or four days with Prince Konoye, and again he mentioned Juneau.




I deeply appreciate the courtesy of Your Excellency in delivering personally to Ambassador Nomura the reply of the United States Government to the proposal of the Japanese Government regarding a meeting between Your Excellency and myself.

In the face of universal warlike turmoil Japan and the United States are the last two major Powers who hold the key to international peace. That the two nations should fall in the worst of relations at this time world mean not only a disaster in itself, but also the collapse of world civilization. Japan is solicitous for the maintenance of the peace of the Pacific and the peace of the world and she desires therefore to improve Japanese-American relations.

The present deterioration of the Japanese-American relations is largely due, I feel, to a lack of understanding which has led to mutual suspicions and misapprehensions, and also encouraged the machinations and maneuvers of Third Powers.

Without first eliminating such causes, it is impossible to expect adjustment of Japanese?American relations. This is why I wish to meet Your Excellency personally for a frank exchange of views.

The preliminary informal conversations, disrupted July last, were quite appropriate both in spirit and content. But the idea of continuing those conversations and to have their conclusion confirmed by the responsible heads of the two Governments does not meet the need of the present situation which is developing swiftly and may produce unforeseen contingencies.

I consider it, therefore, of urgent necessity that the two heads of the Governments should meet first to discuss from a broad standpoint all important problems between Japan and America covering the entire Pacific area, and to explore the possibility of saving the situation. Adjustment of minor items may, if necessary, be left to negotiations between competent officials of the two countries, following the meeting.

Such is my aim in making the present proposal. I sincerely hope my views in this regard are fully understood and reciprocated by Your Excellency.
Because of the nature of the meeting as stated above, I would prefer that it will take place as soon as possible.

[TOKYO,] August 27, 1941.


The Japanese Government has received the communication conveyed by the Secretary of State and the President of the United States to the Japanese Ambassador on August 17, 1941. The Japanese Government desires to state its views as follows:

The Japanese Government profoundly regrets that despite the pledge it has given heretofore as well as its repeated explanations concerning Japan's actions and measures in the foreign field, the United States Government continues to entertain misgivings.

The United States Government mentions certain situations and measures which it regards as inimical to a peaceful settlement in the Pacific area. In an atmosphere of world crisis and international confusion, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain when an event is a cause and when it is a consequence.

When a nation is obstructed in the path of natural and peaceful development or when the means of its existence is threatened, not only is it imperative that that nation should take defensive measures, but it is also required to do so for the maintenance of a just peace. This was the motivating policy of the Japanese Government.

Meanwhile, the United States had taken certain measures which could be interpreted in Japan as indicative of a continuing unfriendly pressure at variance with the then current amicable conversations.

The United States Government certainly regards some of its actions as merely counter?measures against Japan's policy and procedures which were considered as conflicting with American interests and principles. On the other hand, to the Japanese Government those procedures were determined by considerations of self?protection for meeting national requirements or removing environmental and political obstacles against national security.

With admirable modesty of mind, the Government of the United States has seemed frequently unaware that its words and policies are automatically weighted with the immense power of America's accomplished facts, natural endowment and potential might. The President of the United States; and the Secretary of State, in their own unquestioning adherence to the ways of peaceful procedures, might find it difficult to believe that other nations, anywhere, could consider themselves threatened by the United States.

Yet, as long as there is lacking the assuagement of that possible threat, there will be some less favorably endowed (especially in essential resources) who will feel compelled to consider defensively their relations with the United States.

In consequence, the Japanese Government welcomes the invitation by the Government of the United States to an exchange of views in regard to basic policies and attitudes as the foundation of an understanding that will condition lasting and extensive peace in the Pacific area. For such peace, the Government of Japan is ready for such a united effort toward a peaceful settlement covering the entire Pacific situation the Government of Japan, like the Government of the United States, would be proud to make sacrifices.

Japan's measure in Indo-China was intended to accelerate the settlement of the China Incident; and at the same time it was calculated to remove all menace to the peace of the Pacific and to secure to Japan an equitable supply of essential materials. It was a measure of self-defense the Japanese Government felt obliged to take. But the Japanese Government has no intention of threatening thereby other countries.

Therefore, the Japanese Government is prepared to withdraw its troops from Indo-China as soon as the China Incident is settled or a just peace is established in East Asia.

Furthermore, in order to remove all possible doubt in this regard, the Japanese Government reaffirms herewith its repeated declaration that its present action in Indo-China is not a preparatory step for military advance into neighboring territories. The Japanese Government believes the above pledge will suffice to clarify also Japan's intentions toward Thailand.

As regards Soviet-Japanese relations, the Japanese Government declares likewise that Japan will take no military action as long as the Soviet Union remains faithful to the Soviet-Japanese neutrality treaty and does not menace Japan or Manchoukuo or take any action contrary to the spirit of the said treaty. On the other hand, the Japanese Government sincerely hope that the United States Government will avoid any action that might give rise to a fear of menace to Japan through collaboration with the Soviet Union.

In a word, the Japanese Government has no intention of using, without provocation, military force against any neighboring nation.

Quite properly, discussions between the Japanese Government and the Government of the United States directed toward ascertaining if there existed a basis for negotiations for a peaceful settlement covering the entire situation,-such discussions would naturally envisage the working out of a progressive program, obtainable by peaceful methods. The Japanese Government shares fully that view with the Government of the United States.

It is also stated by the United States Government that no proposals or suggestions affecting the rights and privileges of either the United States or Japan would be considered except as these might be in conformity with the basic principles to which the United States has long been committed. The fundamental national policy long cherished by the Japanese Government is again in full agreement on that point.

Regarding the principles and directives set forth in detail by the American Government and envisaged in the informal conversations as constituting a program for the Pacific area, the Japanese Government wishes to state that it considers these principles and the practical application thereof, in the friendliest manner possible, are the prime requisites of a true peace and should be applied not only in the Pacific area but throughout the entire world. Such a program has long been desired and sought by Japan itself.

The Japanese Government now confidently hopes that from the larger viewpoint of a constructive world peace, and in the light of the current international situation, past differences may be merged in an agreement of principles and a cooperative effort based on order and justice. The meeting of the responsible heads of our respective Governments would confirm and give such sanction to our purposes that peace in the Pacific would be instituted by that meeting.

Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943), pp. 719-723

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