File No. 861.00/2821
Memorandum of Conversation between the Third Assistant Secretary of State ( Long ) and the Italian Ambassador ( Macchi di Cellere )
The Italian Ambassador called this afternoon and said that his Government was being pressed by the British and French Governments to appoint a high commissioner to Siberia; that he understood that some other Governments had not consulted America before appointments were made; that Italy did not care to make an appointment without consulting America; that Italy wanted to be in perfect accord with America and that she had adopted as her own the policy which America had laid down toward Russia and Siberia. He said, however, that Italy being the only one of the three big Allies who were not represented in some extraordinary capacity, she might be criticized by the other Allies and that they might feel that she was not in sympathy with them. He said that he had understood from the Secretary of State a good deal of the trouble that high commissioners might cause in Siberia, some of the trouble which this Government had experienced through the high commissioner acting for the Government.
I explained to him at length our position and our desire to refrain from any interference in political affairs in Russia and our fears that a high commissioner would necessarily become involved in political affairs.
He read me several cables from his Government, indicating their faith and reliance in the American policy and stating their desire to follow it. He expressed a hope that, if it should be found necessary to make an appointment of a high commissioner, this Government would understand that his Government was acting not in the interest of Italy but in the interest as they saw it of all the Allied Governments. He stated that, if a commissioner was appointed, he would not be an associate of or a coordinate with the representatives of other governments, but would be a person stationed on Siberian soil to report conditions to his Government.
I explained to him the very high position which the American Government had in the estimation of the Russian people; the suspicion which attached to some other governments because of the [Page 383] appointment by them of high commissioners; the suggestion that the appointment of high commissioners carried with it some purpose which was liable to be misinterpreted by the people of Russia; that the people of Russia had put their interpretation upon such appointments as had been made; that an appointment of high commissioner by Italy might be occasion for similar interpretation to be placed on the motive of the Italian Government, and that there would be a consequent fall, in the minds of the people in Russia, from the present high standing which the Italian Government had in Russia; that as long as Italy had no extraordinary representative, she would maintain her position with the Russian people; our desire that his Government should consider that point of view before making an appointment.
I further stated that we realized that any appointment which might be made would be made upon the conclusion that it was the best thing for the Allied countries and that we appreciated having been consulted in the matter; that we would make no objection of course, but would call to his Government’s attention the danger which lay in the appointment of any person who might be vested with authority to act in political matters or who might be by virtue of his associations drawn into cooperation or coordination with others in political activities in Russia. I told him that we had not appointed a high commissioner and had no intention to appoint a high commissioner, and that we felt that all such appointments were mistakes and were made upon a mistaken conception of the policy which should be adopted toward Russia.
He said he would communicate with his Government and would suggest that instead of appointing a high commissioner they designate some consular officer to proceed to Vladivostok or some other point in Siberia, but that if his Government should not accept his recommendation, he hoped we would understand that their representative, whoever he might be, would be instructed to follow the policy of the American Government and not to become entangled with representatives of any other governments.