The Ambassador in Italy (Phillips) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 17—6:05 p.m.]
34. An informazione diplomática communiqué this afternoon set forth the official views of the Italian Government regarding the meeting between Hitler and Schuschnigg and derides the international press comment with respect to the Italian attitude and considers that the Berchtesgaden meeting and the changes made in the Austrian Cabinet are the natural developments of relations between Germany and Austria on the basis of the agreement of July 11, 1936 which established the essential character of Austro-German relations through the explicit declaration of Austria that it was a German state and which was intended to prepare the way for an understanding between Austria and Germany founded upon realities.
The communiqué continues that “the Fascist Government has always considered and continues to consider that cordial relations and close collaboration between the two German states not only respond to the unalterable conditions of fact but to the essential interests of peace and tranquillity in Central Europe”.
This expression of the official Italian view was confirmed to me by Count Ciano today. While the Minister admitted that the inclusion of Seyss-Inquart, a strong pro-Nazi leader, in the Austrian Cabinet meant a pronounced increase of German influence in Austria he nevertheless felt that it was far better to have cooperation between the two Governments since any increase of Austrian opposition or [Page 401] hostility to Germany might of itself be an invitation to Hitler to take some drastic step. Ciano also told me that there would be very much closer cooperation between the German and Austrian Armies and that during the next year there would be an exchange of high ranking officers between the two armies.
The Austrian Minister here Berger-Waldenegg who, as the Department will recall, was formerly Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs takes a somewhat optimistic attitude presumably representing the official Austrian interpretation. During a conversation with him today he expressed the view that the Berchtesgaden conversations had been beneficial and represented a fairly satisfactory compromise between the demands of Hitler and the views of Schuschnigg. Berger-Waldenegg regarded Seyss-Inquart as thoroughly loyal to Austria and not an out and out Nazi. He considered Hitler’s public reaffirmation of the agreement of July 11, 1936 a most useful accomplishment since Austrian Nazis had in the past refused to regard it seriously because it had been negotiated and signed by Neurath. They had used as their excuse for continuing to make trouble that Hitler had not been in sympathy with the agreement. Berger-Waldenegg added that the meeting had been carefully prepared in advance and that negotiations along this line had been going on for about 5 weeks during which the Italian Government had been kept fully informed.
I gain the impression that the Italian Government is not dissatisfied with the present arrangement since it recognizes the importance of the 1936 agreement in the maintenance of Austrian independence and therefore welcomes any development which might tend to strengthen the agreement and prevent the increase of Austrian hostility toward Germany. On the other hand the elements in this country which have been previously described as either hostile or indifferent to the Rome–Berlin Axis are concerned lest recent developments mean such a weakening of Austria as might encourage Hitler to take further steps.
Repeated to Vienna.