Memorandum [68] Regarding a Conversation Between the Secretary of State and the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura), 28 August 1941

[WASHINGTON,] August 28, 1941.

The Japanese Ambassador called by appointment made at his request at the Secretary's apartment. He expressed his appreciation for the Secretary's having arranged to have the Ambassador see the President that morning. The Ambassador said that he felt much encouraged from his interview with the President to hope for a successful outcome of our common effort to bring about an improvement in the relations between the two countries, and he added that he has telegraphed a full account of that interview to his Government.

The Ambassador said that it was his personal opinion that the suggestion of the President that the meeting between the President and the Japanese Prime Minister be held at Juneau would be agreeable to his Government and that the Prime Minister would probably proceed thither by a Japanese warship, making the journey in about ten days. The Ambassador thought that the Prime Minister would be assisted by a staff of about twenty persons, of whom five each would be from the Foreign Office, the Army, the Navy and the Japanese Embassy at Washington. The Ambassador thought that the inclusion of army and navy representatives in the delegation would be especially beneficial in view of the responsibility which they would share for the settlement reached. He said his Government was very anxious that the meeting be held at the earliest possible moment in view of the efforts of a third country and fifth columnists in Japan, who are now behind a press campaign against the United States, to disturb Japanese-American relations. He suggested the period between September 21 and 25 as suitable. He said that the question of publicity was something which the two Governments should agree upon, and that involved in the question of timing of any announcement was the fact that the Prime Minister would necessarily have to leave Tokyo about five days before the President left Washington.

The Secretary said that he would refer these points to the President for his consideration.

The Secretary then pointed out to the Ambassador the desirability of there being reached in advance of the proposed meeting an agreement in principle on the principal questions which were involved in a settlement of Pacific questions between the two nations. He dwelt upon the serious consequences from the point of view of both Governments which would ensue if the meeting failed to result in an agreement as a consequence of issues arising which could not be resolved, and he expressed the view that the meeting should therefore have as its purpose the ratification of essential points already agreed to in principle.

The Secretary pointed out that in the conversations which had taken place last spring difficulties had been encountered in regard to certain fundamental points which had caused delays which finally culminated in Japan's taking action contrary to the spirit which had animated both the Ambassador and himself in those conversations. The Secretary also pointed out that it would be unfortunate if now, while one half of the Japanese Government was disposed to go along a course of peace the other half should be pulling in the opposite direction.

The Ambassador reviewed the points in regard to which difficulties had been encountered in the conversations, namely: (1) Japan's relations to the Axis, (2) the question of the retention of Japanese troops in North China and Inner Mongolia, and (3) the question of the application of the principle of nondiscrimination in international commercial relations. He noted that only in regard to the question of the retention of Japanese troops in North China, concerning which he had no information that his Government had modified its attitude, did he anticipate real difficulty. He observed that with regard to Japan's relations with the Axis there should be no difficulties, as the Japanese people regarded their adherence to the Axis as merely nominal and as he could not conceive of his people being prepared to go to war with the United States for the sake of Germany. He said he thought our attitude in regard to self-protection was entirely reasonable. The only difficulty that he saw was that to ask that Japan give a blank check for action that the United States might take against Germany in the name of self-defense was equivalent to asking for a nullification of the Tripartite Pact.

The Secretary commented that the Japanese Government had entered into the Tripartite Pact at a most critical moment in our efforts to extend aid to England, and Japan's action therefore was given particular emphasis in this country. In addition, Mr. Matsuoka kept reasserting gratuitously Japan's alignment with the Axis. The Secretary said he felt that unless something was done to counteract the effect upon the American people, it might prove a source of serious embarrassment to the President upon his return from the proposed meeting. The Secretary went on to refer to the actual situation in our relations with Germany, to the fact that although no shooting is taking place we are maintaining patrols all the way to Iceland.

The. Japanese Ambassador said that with regard to the China question it was the idea of the Japanese Government that we exercise our good offices in bringing the Chinese and Japanese together leaving China and Japan to reach a direct settlement among themselves whereas the United States Government desired to discuss with Japan the basic terms on which peace was to be concluded.

The Secretary said that we were involved in this matter through Japan's requesting this Government to exercise its good offices. In order to exercise such good offices, it was necessary for us to have the confidence and friendship of the Chinese Government before and after exercising those good offices. We could not, he said, propose that the Chinese negotiate with Japan until we knew what the basic terms were which Japan intended to propose and it can be imagined what a difficult situation would be created if, after a meeting between Prince Konoye and the President, an explosion should take place in China as a result of dissatisfaction with the results of that meeting. The Secretary explained further that we could not now afford to have the Chinese think that we were ignoring their interests in going ahead with any arrangements and that it was our idea to help the Japanese achieve the purpose of establishing friendship with China on a solid basis. In this way the Secretary said we could work together, Japan and the United States, in order to make the most of the potentialities of the 500,000,000 people of China as a trading nation.

The Ambassador commented that of course the China question was a very important matter but in view of the wide-spread press comments to the effect that the situation had now come to a show-down between Japan and the United States were there not other questions pending between the United States and Japan even apart from the China question which could be disposed of at the meeting with a view to tiding over a critical situation.

The Secretary replied that it was quite true that there were these other questions but that the China question was one of the pivotal questions underlying relations between the United States and Japan and if this question remained unsettled to the satisfaction of all there would remain the roots of future instability and trouble. The Ambassador said that he recognized the soundness of what the Secretary said especially in view of the French Indochina situation. Mr. Ballantine said he assumed that what the Ambassador had reference to was the Japanese assurance that they would withdraw their troops from French Indochina as soon as the China affair was settled.

The Ambassador then recapitulated briefly what the Secretary had said, namely, that the Secretary considers that there should be an agreement in principle on the outstanding questions of importance prior to the holding of the meeting, that the meeting would serve the purpose of ratifying agreement in principle already reached, that the Secretary considered that the Chinese question was one of the pivotal subjects calling for settlement, and that this Government in exercising its good offices between China and Japan would have to consider the basic terms on which Japan proposed to negotiate. The Secretary said that this represented his views. The Ambassador said that he recognized that what the Secretary said was quite reasonable. The Ambassador had misgivings as to how far the Japanese Government could go on account of the internal political difficulties in Japan. He said, however, that Prince Konoye was a man of great courage and was prepared to assume great risks in bringing to a successful conclusion an effort to improve relations.

[68] Prepared by Joseph W. Ballantine.

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. 723-727

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