884.6461 Tsana Dam/302

The Minister in Ethiopia (Southard) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 785

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of the Department’s telegram No. 17 of August 5th, 1931,16 stating that unless I cable an adverse opinion the J. G. White Engineering Corporation proposes to ask informally through the Italian Embassy at Washington for estimates on the cost of stone masons and other artisans for classes of work on the Tsana Dam for which the Ethiopians are not equipped.17

While this step on the part of the Corporation impresses the Legation as perhaps having elements of danger our opinion is not sufficiently well formed along those lines to justify an adverse cable, especially as Mr. Henry A. Lardner, Vice President, is personally familiar with the local political situation and can visualize fairly accurately what might happen should the Italians here start boasting in Ethiopian hearing that they have been asked to “participate” with the American company in the construction of the Tsana dam. I assume that the Italians will not do that prematurely, and I also assume that Mr. Lardner has asked the Italian Embassy in Washington to consider the matter most confidential.

The Italians are secretly feared by the Ethiopians and there will for many years remain the suspicion that our Roman friends might at any time decide to slice off still a bit more Ethiopian territory to add to their colonies on one side or the other. But Mr. Lardner knows all of this, and the Legation must assume that there is accordingly a very important [Page 868] reason for his proposed move in asking quotations on Italian skilled labor. After mature consideration of these various points the Legation has concluded that there does not exist sufficient basis for an adverse cable opinion on its part. The Legation does not, for reasons above intimated, look upon the move with unqualified approval, and hopes that the White Corporation will have taken the necessary precautions to prevent any premature discussion in Addis Ababa.

The Italian policy here is becoming more and more active. The Governor of Eritrea is due in Addis Ababa within a few days on a state visit to discuss with the Emperor various matters of Italian ambition towards Ethiopia. One important point will be the question of Italian highway building from Eritrea on the north either to Gondar or to Dessie. Should these matters all go well it will indicate a better Ethiopian feeling towards the Italians, and will by that much lessen any prejudice arising from possible local gossip in connection with the White Corporation’s proposals through the Italian Embassy in Washington. Further report on this visit of the Governor of Eritrea will shortly be made.

Respectfully yours,

Addison E. Southard
  1. Not printed.
  2. In an undated telegram, No. 17, received August 20, 2 p.m., the Minister in Ethiopia stated that he considered the proposed action inadvisable (884.6461 Tsana Dam/298).