The Chargé in Italy (Kirk) to the Secretary of State
[Received August 5—3:20 p.m.]
314. My 311, August 4, 6 p.m. From further information now available relating to the representation made by the German [French] Ambassador to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy on August 3d it appears that, in the general sense of the unconfirmed reports contained in my above-mentioned telegram, he gave Ciano to understand that the French Government might feel called upon to readjust the neutral stand which it had hitherto adopted in view of the Spanish conflict if other countries should demonstrate an unneutral attitude either in theory or in practice although, the French Ambassador states, this observation was not made in the form of a threat in order to induce the Italian Government to join in the declaration of neutrality proposed by France. I also understand that the French Ambassador mentioned the incident of the landing of Italian planes in North Africa (see my 307, August 1, 5 p.m.) but did not choose to press the point at that time in order not to jeopardize the possibility of Italy’s accepting the French proposal. In the event, however, that the Italian reply is unsatisfactory, further representations in regard to that incident are apparently intended as the French Government is satisfied that it has sufficient proofs to involve Italian authorities.
The French Ambassador is expecting to receive the Italian reply at any moment. The delay in the reply, although explained on the basis of Mussolini’s absence, has given rise to conjectures as to the possibility that it may be deferred pending consultation between Rome and Berlin and in this connection the importance of Germany as a factor in the situation (see my 291, July 25, 3 p.m.) has developed to the extent of arousing suspicions in certain circles that Hitler with Mussolini’s consent is planning to create an incident in relation to the Spanish conflict which would result in the establishment of Germany on North African territory. Those who entertain this suspicion, however, are unable to reconcile such an intention with the policy which Mussolini has declared of avoiding further complications in Europe and with the belief that neither Hitler nor Mussolini would be willing at this time to arouse the opposition of Great Britain which would result from such a move.
Meanwhile the inspired press here has given no intimation of the Italian reply to the French proposal although there is the opinion that the Italian Government will find it difficult, even if it so desires, to reject the proposal altogether and that the reply will probably be favorable with certain reservations. One of the leading afternoon [Page 464]papers points out that there should be no difficulty in arriving at a declaration of neutrality as opposed to non-intervention through the recognition of two contending parties in Spain as belligerents. The Italian papers continue to publish reports under foreign date lines of the sale to Spain of airplanes and material originating in France, Great Britain, Belgium and Russia.