Memorandum [92] Regarding a Conversation Between the Under Secretary of State (Welles), the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura), and Mr. Kurusu, 2 December 1941

[WASHINGTON,] December 2, 1941.

The Under Secretary said that the Secretary was absent from the Department because of a slight indisposition and that the President had therefore asked Mr. Welles to request the Japanese Ambassador and Mr. Kurusu to call to receive a communication which the President wished to make to them. Mr. Welles then read to Their Excellencies the following statement (a copy of which was handed to the Ambassador)

"I have received reports during the past days of continuing Japanese troop movements to southern Indochina. These reports indicate a very rapid and material increase in the forces of all kinds stationed by Japan in Indochina.

"It was my clear understanding that by the terms of the agreement-and there is no present need to discuss the nature of that agreement-between Japan and the French Government at Vichy that the total number of Japanese forces permitted by the terms of that agreement to be stationed in Indochina was very considerably less than the total amount of the forces already there.

"The stationing of these increased Japanese forces in Indochina would seem to imply the utilization of these forces by Japan for purposes of further aggression, since no such number of forces could possibly be required for the policing of that region. Such aggression could conceivably be against the Philippine Islands; against the many islands of the East Indies; against Burma; against Malaya or either through coercion or through the actual use of force for the purpose of undertaking the occupation of Thailand. Such new aggression would, of course, be additional to the acts of aggression already undertaken against China, our attitude towards which is well known, and has been repeatedly stated to the Japanese Government.

"Please be good enough to request the Japanese Ambassador and Ambassador Kurusu to inquire at once of the Japanese Government what the actual reasons may be for the steps already taken, and what I am to consider is the policy of the Japanese Government as demonstrated by this recent and rapid concentration of troops in Indochina. This Government has seen in the last few years in Europe a policy on the part of the German Government which has involved a constant and steady encroachment upon the territory and rights of free and independent peoples through the utilization of military steps of the same character. It is for that reason and because of the broad problem of American defense that I should like to know the intention of the Japanese Government."

The Japanese Ambassador said that he was not informed by the Japanese Government of its intentions and could not speak authoritatively on the matter but that of course he would communicate the statement immediately to his Government. Mr. Kurusu said that, in view of Japan's offer of November 20 to transfer all its forces from. southern Indochina to northern Indochina, it was obvious no threat against the United States was intended. Both Mr. Kurusu and the Ambassador endeavored to explain that owing to lack of adequate land communication facilities in Indochina a rapid transfer of forces from northern to southern Indochina for purposes of aggression against countries neighboring southern Indochina could not be easily effected. Mr. Kurusu asked whether the reports to which the President referred were from our authorities. Mr. Welles said that he was not in position to say any more on that point than was contained in the statement.

The Ambassador said that it appeared to him that the measures which Japan was taking were natural under the circumstances, as the strengthening of armaments and of military dispositions by one side naturally leads to increasing activity by the other side. Mr. Welles stated that, as the Japanese Ambassador must be fully aware, this Government has not had any aggressive intention against Japan. The Ambassador said that, while he did not wish to enter into a debate on the matter, he wished to point out that the Japanese people believe that economic measures are a much more effective weapon of war than military measures; that they believe they are being placed under severe pressure by the United States to yield to the American position; and that it is preferable to fight rather than to yield to pressure. The Ambassador added that this was a situation in which wise statesmanship was needed; that wars do not settle anything; and that under the circumstances some agreement, even though it is not satisfactory, is better than no agreement at all.

Mr. Welles pointed out that the settlement which we are offering Japan is one which would assure Japan of peace and the satisfaction of Japan's economic needs much more certainly than any other alternative which Japan might feel was open to her.

Mr. Kurusu said that having just recently arrived from Japan he could speak more accurately of the frame of mind which is prevalent in Japan than could the Ambassador. He dwelt briefly upon the reaction which has been caused in Japan by our freezing measures and he said that this produces a frame of mind which has to be taken into account.

Mr. Welles pointed out that, as the Ambassadors must fully understand, there is a frame of mind in this country also which must be taken into account, and that frame of mind is produced by the effect of four years of the measures taken by Japan in China causing the squeezing out of American interests in Japanese-occupied areas. Mr. Kurusu then repeated what he had said two or three times previously about the effect of the Washington Conference treaties upon China which had caused China to flaunt Japan's rights. He said that in view of the actual situation in the Far East there were points in our proposal of November 26 which the Japanese Government would find it difficult to accept. Mr. Welles asked whether we may expect shortly a reply from the Japanese Government on our proposal. The Ambassador replied in the affirmative, but said that it might take a few days in view of the important questions which it raised for the Japanese Government. Mr. Kurusu expressed the hope that the American Government would exercise cool judgment in its consideration of questions under discussion between the two Governments. Mr. Welles said that we are asking for cool judgment on the part of Japanese statesmen.

Then Mr. Kurusu said that the Japanese felt that we had made real progress in our discussions and that the Japanese Government had been hopeful of being able to work out with us some settlement of the three outstanding points on which our draft of June 21 and the Japanese draft of September 25 had not been reconciled. He asked whether the Secretary would be willing to consider resuming our efforts to reconcile our differences on those three points, in view of all the progress that had been made, instead of approaching the problem from a new angle as we had done in our latest proposal which seemed to the Japanese Government to require a completely fresh start.

Mr. Welles said that our proposal of November 26 represented an effort to restate our complete position, as it has always stood. He said, however, that he would be glad to refer to the Secretary Mr. Kurusu's suggestion.

[92] 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. 821-26

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