Memorandum Regarding a Conversation Between the Secretary Of State and the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura), 2 October 1941

[WASHINGTON,] October 2, 1941.

The Ambassador called at the Secretary's apartment at the request of the Secretary. The Secretary handed the Ambassador a strictly confidential statement containing the views of this Government with respect to the Japanese Government's proposals.

After the Ambassador had read the statement the Secretary invited the Japanese Ambassador to comment. The Ambassador said that he feared that his Government would be disappointed because of its very earnest desire to hold the meeting. He said he wished to assure the Secretary that he was convinced that the Japanese Government was entirely sincere in this matter and had no ulterior purpose. He added, however, that in view of the difficulties of the internal situation in Japan he did not think his Government could go further at this time. The Secretary replied that he was fully convinced of the sincerity of the Prime Minister and others in the Japanese Government. He said that so far as this Government was concerned we had our difficulties, too; that we had to meet the objections of critics; and that in view of past developments it was not possible in one day to remove their misgivings. For this reason, as the Secretary had often remarked, we felt it necessary to have an agreement that would speak for itself: one that would on the face of it make manifest the purposes of both Governments consistently to pursue courses of peace. The Ambassador referred to a press report that he had seen yesterday of a speech by a member of the American Cabinet in which there was a reference to bringing about the defeat of Japan. His comment implied that such statements would have a bad effect in Japan as it would be assumed that what a member of the Cabinet said represented the views of the administration. He said that certain persons in Japan might have made unfortunate statements, but he did not think that such persons were members of the Cabinet and that anything a member of the Japanese Cabinet might say would be taken as representing the views of the Japanese Government.

The Secretary referred to the, fact that all the time the Ambassador and he were holding conversations in regard to our proposed understanding Mr. Matsuoka was making public statements of a character inconsistent with the spirit of those conversations. He noted that the Ambassador had continued their conversations despite those statements.

The Secretary went on to say that we had felt that we could not proceed through indirect courses to attain the objects which our two Governments are seeking, that we must proceed directly, and that no patchwork arrangement would meet the situation of establishing peace in the Pacific area. It was for that reason the Secretary felt that we should endeavor to reach a meeting of minds on essential points before holding the proposed meeting. We had no desire whatever, he emphasized, to cause any delay. The Secretary further pointed out that we had tried the effects of both secrecy and of publicity and that we already were able to gauge public reaction to the proposed understanding between the two Governments as a result of our letting it be known that informal and exploratory conversations were proceeding. Thus the important thing for us now was to endeavor to reach a meeting of minds on essentials in order to ensure the success of any meeting that we might hold.

As the Ambassador did not appear to understand the foregoing point made to him, Mr. Ballantine repeated in Japanese what the Secretary had said.

The Ambassador said that he felt that the only point on which he anticipated difficulty in the two Governments reaching an agreement was in regard to the question of retention of Japanese troops in China. He thought that, with regard to the question of non-discrimination, the Japanese Government would meet us. The Secretary emphasized that in his opinion no country would stand to gain more than Japan from the general universal application of the principle. The Secretary added that he would like to give the Ambassador a report of the Lima Conference containing the resolutions adopted in regard to economic matters and he suggested that the Japanese Government might be interested in adopting similar policies in the Far East. The Ambassador said that Japanese present-day thought with respect to regional economic blocs was the result of circumstances, that is to say, of measures taken by other countries such as the Empire preferences introduced at Ottawa. The Secretary replied that he had been, fighting such measures as those taken at Ottawa and he would like to have Japan join with the United States in fighting for liberal economic policies.

In conclusion, the Ambassador commented that he thought that the Konoye Cabinet was in a comparatively strong position and that he did not anticipate that there was a likelihood of reactionary groups coming into power. He repeated his conviction that the Konoye Cabinet was extremely desirous of reaching an agreement with the United States.

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. 753-55

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