Memorandum  Regarding a Conversation Between the Secretary of State, the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura), and Mr. Kurusu
[WASHINGTON,] November 18, 1941.
The Japanese Ambassador and Mr. Kurusu called on the Secretary, by appointment made at their request, at the Department.
After some preliminary remarks the Secretary took up the question of Japan's relations with the Axis. He pointed out that the public would place their own interpretation upon the implications of a situation wherein on the one hand Japan had an agreement with us and on the other was in an alliance with the Axis powers. He said that our people do not trust Hitler and furthermore we feel that it would be inevitable that Hitler would eventually, if he was successful, get around to the Far East and double‑cross Japan. The Secretary cited the instance when Germany, after having concluded an anti‑Comintern pact with Japan had surprised Japan later on by entering into a non‑aggression pact with Russia and finally went back on the non‑aggression pact by attacking Russia. The Secretary said that he presumed Japan did not know in advance what Germany's intentions were any more than we did. The Secretary expressed great doubt that any agreement into which we entered with Japan while Japan at the same time had an alliance with Hitler would carry the confidence of our people and he emphasized that we would have to have a clear‑cut agreement making self‑evident our peaceful purpose, for otherwise there would be a redoubled effort by all nations to strengthen their armaments. He pointed out that we are coming out of the Philippines in 1946 and that we are now bringing our marines out of China and in this way we are trying to make a contribution to the establishment of a peaceful world based on law and order. He said that this is what we want to work out with Japan; that we had nothing to offer in the may of bargaining except our friendship. Our commercial program was one, he said, calling for a maximum production and distribution of goods. The Secretary pointed out also that we are even now engaged in efforts to induce the British Empire to reduce its Empire preferences. w He said that what we desire is to put our people back to work in a way that can never be accomplished through permitting armies to overrun countries. The Secretary observed that many Japanese spokesmen had spoken of Japan's desire to have a controlling influence in Eastern Asia, but the only kind of controlling influence which was worth anything was one that could not be achieved or maintained by the sword. He dwelt briefly upon what we have accomplished in South America through our peaceful policies and through renouncing the employment. of gunboats and armed forces. The Secretary made it clear that we recognized that under present emergency conditions we cannot carry out to perfection our commercial policy which must be modified to meet war conditions, but we can at least establish the. principles. The Secretary said, going back to the situation with regard to Japan's relations with the Axis, that a difficult situation was created thereby as far as our public was concerned—as, for example, when telegrams of congratulations were sent to Hitler by Japanese leaders when he commits some atrocity.
The Japanese Ambassador observed that the United States and Russia were not pursuing parallel courses and yet we are aligned with Russia at the present time. He also said he appreciated very well the relations we had developed with South America but that, although Japan would like to imitate us, Japan was not in a position to be so magnanimous—as, for example, in the mater of extending substantial lend‑lease aid to other countries. . . . The Secretary then added that he frankly did not know whether anything could be done in the matter of reaching a satisfactory agreement with Japan; that we can go so far but rather than go beyond a certain point it would be better for us to stand and take the consequences. The Ambassador then said that Japan is now hard‑pressed and that the Secretary was well aware of how desirous Japan was to reach some agreement with the United States.
Mr. Kurusu said that he had served five years as Director of the Commercial Bureau of the Japanese Foreign Office and that he was familiar with the developments in Japan's commercial policy. He said that the situation with respect to the Empire preferences was one of the factors which had influenced Japan to go into the Axis camp. He said that the United States was an economically powerful country and that the United States was, therefore, in a much better position than was Japan to enter into commercial bargaining. Furthermore, Japan was much more dependent than was the United States upon foreign trade. He felt that what the two Governments should now do would be to achieve something to tide over the present abnormal situation.. He referred, for example, to the exchange control situation which had been developed in Japanese‑occupied China and expressed the view that that situation could not be done away with in a short time. He said that perhaps after the war was over it might be possible to adopt a more liberal policy but that he was unable to promise anything on the part of his Government. The Secretary asked whether Japan could not now agree in principle on commercial policy. Mr. Kurusu made no direct reply but went on to say that in the early years of American intercourse in the Far East our main interest was in commerce and not religious and cultural activities; that we had pursued a course of idealism, but with American occupation of the Philippines the situation changed somewhat and the United States tied itself in with the European concert of nations.
Turning to the question of the Tripartite Pact, Mr. Kurusu said that he could not say that Japan would abrogate the Tripartite Pact but that Japan might do something which would "outshine" the Tripartite Pact.
The Secretary pointed out that unless peacefully minded nations now start their program of reconstruction it will be impossible to get such a program started later on because the selfish elements would get control of the situation and prevent the materialization of a liberal policy. Therefore, he said it was necessary to get the fundamental principles established, so that we might begin to enable the peaceful forces, which were now demoralized, to assert a leadership. Unless we pursue such a course, the Secretary noted, we shall not be able to obtain the confidence of peacefully minded people when the time for putting into effect a reconstruction program arrives. Mr. Kurusu asked whether the Secretary had a concrete formula for dealing with Japan's relations with the Axis alliance. The Secretary made it clear that this was a matter for Japan to work out. He said that if we could get a peaceful program firmly established, Hitler ought to be asked not to embarrass us too much. He asked whether Japan could not work it out in some way which would be convincing to the American people. He said that if it goes the wrong way every peaceful nation will redouble its defensive efforts. The Secretary emphasized again that the public would be confused in regard to a survival of a relationship between Japan and the Axis while Japan had an agreement with the United States.
The Ambassador asked whether it was not important now to make some understanding to save the situation. The Secretary said he agreed but that he felt that the Tripartite Pact was inconsistent with the establishment of an understanding.
Mr. Kurusu asked what could the Secretary suggest. The Secretary said that if we mix the Tripartite Pact with an agreement with the United States it will not be possible to get many people to follow us. The Secretary said that the question arises whether Japanese statesmen desire to follow entirely peaceful courses with China or whether they desire to face two ways. The Secretary went on to say that if the Japanese should back away from adopting a clear‑cut position with regard to commercial policy, with regard to a course in China consistent with peaceful principles and with regard to Japanese relations to the European war this would leave us in an indefensible position in regard to the proposed agreement. We would have to say that the Japanese Government is unable to get its politicians into line.
The Ambassador repeated that the situation in Japan was very pressing and that it was important to arrest a further deterioration of the relations between the two countries. He suggested that if this situation could now be checked an atmosphere would develop when it would be possible to move in the direction of the courses which this Government advocated. He pointed out that big ships cannot turn around too quickly, that they have to be eased around slowly and gradually.
The Secretary replied that if we should sit down and write an agreement permeated with the doctrine of force it would be, found that each country would be entirely distrustful and would be piling up armaments, as countries cannot promote peace so long as they are tied-in in any way with Hitler.
Mr. Kurusu pointed out that a comprehensive solution cannot be worked out immediately, that he could make no promises. He said that our freezing regulations had caused impatience in Japan and a feeling that Japan had to fight while it still could. If we could come to some settlement now, he said, it would promote an atmosphere which would be conducive to discussing fundamentals. The Secretary asked if he did not think that something could be worked out on the Tripartite Pact. The Ambassador said that he desired to emphasize that Japan would not be a cat's‑paw for Germany, that Japan's purpose in entering into the Tripartite alliance was to use it for Japan's own purposes, that Japan entered the Tripartite Pact because Japan felt isolated. The Secretary observed that it would be difficult to get public opinion in this country to understand the situation as Mr. Kurusu had described it.
He then asked what the Ambassador had in mind in regard to the Chinese situation and whether the Japanese stood for no annexations, no indemnities, respect. for China's sovereignty, territorial integrity and the principle of equality. The Ambassador replied in the affirmative.
The Secretary then said that while he had made this point already clear to the Ambassador he wished to make it clear also to Mr. Kurusu, that whereas the Japanese Government desired to consider our talks negotiations rather than exploratory conversations, the Secretary felt that without having first reached a real basis for negotiations, he was not in a position to go to the British or the Chinese or the other governments involved, as these governments had a rightful interest in these problems. Mr. Kurusu tried to get the Secretary to specify in just which problems each of the respective governments were interested but the Secretary said that he had not yet, for manifest reasons, discussed these problems with these other governments and anything that he might say would be just an assumption on his part. Mr. Kurusu then said that under such circumstances United States-Japanese relations would be at the mercy of Great Britain and China. The Secretary replied that he believed and must repeat that we must have something substantial in the way of a basis for an agreement to take to these governments for otherwise there would be no point in talking to them. Mr. Kurusu said that the situation was so pressing that it might get beyond our control. The Secretary agreed that, that was true but he pointed out that the fact that Japan's leaders keep announcing programs based upon force adds to our difficulties. He said he would like to leave the Hitler situation to the Japanese Government for consideration.
Turning to the China situation the Secretary asked how many soldiers the Japanese wanted to retain in China. The Ambassador replied that possibly 90 per cent would be withdrawn. The Secretary asked how long the Japanese intended to keep that remaining 10 per cent in China. The Ambassador did not reply directly to this but he invited attention to the fact that under the existing Boxer Protocol Japan was permitted to retain troops in the Peiping and Tientsin area. The Secretary pointed out that the question of the Japanese troops in China was one in which there were many elements of trouble. American interests even had suffered severely from the actions of the Japanese forces and we had a long list of such in stances. The Secretary made mention of the great patience this Government had exercised in the presence of this situation. He said the situation was one in which the extremists seemed to be looking for trouble and he said that it was up to the Japanese Government to make an extra effort to take the situation by the collar. He said also that the United States and Japan had trusted each other in the past, that the present situation was one of Japan's own making and it was up to the Japanese Government to find some way of getting itself out of the difficulty in which it had placed itself. The Secretary went on to say that the situation was now exceptionally advantageous for Japan to put her factories to work in producing goods which are needed by peaceful countries if only the Japanese people could get war and invasion out of mind. The Ambassador said that our conversations had been protracted and if the American Government could only give the Japanese some hope with regard to the situation it might be helpful. He added that our country was great and strong. The Secretary replied that our Government has not made any threats and he has exercised his influence throughout to deprecate bellicose utterances in this country. He added that the Japanese armed forces in China do not appear to realize whose territory they are in and. that the people in this country say that Hitler proposes to take charge of one‑half of the world and Japan proposes to take charge of the other half and if they should succeed what would there be left for the United States? Mr. Kurusu suggested, that Japan would have to move gradually in China, that one step right lead to another and that what was important now was to do something to enable Japan to change its course. The Secretary asked what was in Mr. Kurusu's mind. In reply to a suggestion that it was felt in Japanese circles that we have been responsible for delay the Secretary pointed out that we could more rightly accuse the Japanese of delays, that he had met with the Japanese Ambassador promptly every time the latter had asked for a meeting and had discussed matters fully with him. The Secretary added that when Japan's movement into Indo-china in July took place this had caused an interruption of our conversations and it was then that the Secretary could no longer defend the continued shipments of petroleum products to Japan, especially as for the past year he had been under severe criticism in this country for not having cut off those shipments. Mr. Kurusu asked whether we wanted the status quo ante to be restored or what we expected Japan to do. The Secretary replied that if the Japanese could not do anything now on those three points‑getting troops out of China, commercial policy and the Tripartite agreement—he could only leave to Japan what Japan could do. The Secretary said that it is our desire to see Japan help furnish a world leadership for a peaceful program and that he felt that Japan's long‑swing interests were the same as our interests. The Ambassador said that he realized that our Government was suspicious of the Japanese Government but he wished to assure us that Japan wanted to settle the China affair notwithstanding the fact that Japan desired to keep a few troops in China for the time being. The Secretary then asked again what the Japanese had in mind. Mr. Kurusu said that it was Japan's intention to withdraw Japanese troops from French Indochina as soon as a just Pacific settlement should be reached and he pointed out that the Japanese Government took the Burma Road situation very seriously. The Secretary asked, if there should be a relaxation of freezing, to what extent would that enable Japan to adopt peaceful policies. He explained that what he had in mind was to enable the peaceful leaders in Japan to get control of the situation in Japan and to assert their influence. The Ambassador said that our position was unyielding and that it was Japan's unyielding attitude toward Chiang Kai‑shek which had stiffened Chinese resistance against Japan. He asked whether there was any hope of a solution—some small beginning toward the realization of our high ideals. The Secretary replied that if we do not work out an agreement that the public trusts the arming of nations will go on; that the Japanese Government has a responsibility in the matter as it has created the conditions we are trying to deal with. The Ambassador then suggested the possibility of going back to the status which existed before the date in July when, following the Japanese move into southern French Indochina, our freezing measures were put into effect. The Secretary said that if we should make some modifications in our embargo on the strength of a step by Japan such as the Ambassador had mentioned we do not know whether the troops which have been withdrawn from French Indochina will be diverted to some equally objectionable movement elsewhere. The Ambassador said that what he had in mind was simply some move toward arresting the dangerous trend in our relations. The Secretary said that it would be difficult for him to get this Government to go a long way in removing the embargo unless this Government believed that Japan was definitely started on a peaceful course and had renounced purposes of conquest. The Ambassador said that the Japanese were tired of fighting China and that Japan would go as far as it could along a first step. The Secretary said that he would consult with the British and the Dutch to see what their attitude would be toward the suggestion offered by the Japanese Ambassador. In reply to a question by the Secretary the Ambassador replied that the Japanese Government. was still studying the questions of commercial policy involved in our proposal of November 15. He said he assumed that what we had in mind was a program for dealing with the situation after the war. The Secretary replied in the affirmative, so far as the full operation of a sound program is concerned, but added that it should now be agreed upon as to principles.
When asked by the Secretary as to when the Ambassador would like to confer with us again the Ambassador said that he would get in touch with his Government and would communicate to the Secretary through Mr. Ballantine.
 Prepared by Joseph W. Ballantine.
(PEACE AND WAR, UNITED STATES FOREIGN POLICY 1931-1941, UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE WASHINGTON: 1943)