765.75/444: Telegram

The Minister in Albania (Grant) to the Secretary of State

21. In an audience with King Zog today at noon the King made the following statement in substance:

“Some days ago the Italian Minister in Albania presented to me certain demands which according to my judgment amounted to a protectorate over Albania. I flatly refused to consider any proposal which either directly or indirectly would impair the integrity and independence of my country. General Sereggi, new Minister to Italy, subsequently had a conversation with Mussolini and Ciano in which [Page 372] he presented my views. Yesterday afternoon the Italian Minister conversed with me for two hours and presented to me again certain demands which taken together amount to a protectorate over Albania. The Italian Minister said he wanted a reply for his Government by 12 o’clock today. I refused to consider the demands which would result in a protectorate according to my view. The Italian Minister maintained that the demands would not constitute a protectorate.”

The demands presented by the Italian Minister which were enumerated to me by the King provide; (1) for the control of all ports, communications, roads, and airfields in the event it appears that Albanian independence is in danger, (2) an Italian organizer in each Albanian Ministry who would have the rank of Minister ranking immediately below the Albanian Minister; (3) Italians in Albania to have equal civil and political rights with the Albanians; (4) the raising of the Italian Legation in Tirana and the Albanian Legation in Rome to the rank of Embassies.

In regard to the first demand the King said he informed the Italian Minister that only after previous agreement and in case he, the King, requested it would he agree to the landing of Italian troops in Albania. The King said he had refused the second demand stating that he would only agree to Italian organizers if the Albanians thought it necessary such as exists in several Ministries at the present time. On the third point the King said he would only agree to granting to the Italians civil rights, that to grant the other demands would mean that the Italians would be elected to the Albanian Parliament and could own land in Albania. The King said he agreed to the fourth demand.

The King stated further that the Italian Minister called to see him again this morning and presented to him for his signature a document containing the Italian demands. The King indicated further that in view of the insistence of several of his Ministers that he reconsider his decision he requested the Italian Minister to hold the matter in abeyance until 6 o’clock this evening in order to give the Albanian Cabinet and a delegation representing it an opportunity to consider the question. He said that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister were charged to give the reply of the Government to the Italian Minister. The King indicated that in view of his Minister’s requests he had left it to the Cabinet and Parliamentary delegates to make their own choice.

In answer to my categorical question as to whether the Government would resist by force the landing of Italian troops in the event the Government decides to refuse the demands, the King replied that he had ordered general mobilization and the evacuation of Durazzo’s civil population. His Majesty said he did not have many soldiers [Page 373] and that he had been able to send only two battalions to the port of Valona. Other units he said have been placed in strategic sections. He said that the remainder of the [apparent omission] were civilians to whom arms have been distributed. The King indicated that it would not be possible for his army to resist very long the powerfully well equipped Italian Army. He said that the Albanian resistance would be a protest against Italian aggression and a demonstration to the world that the Albanians would not die without putting up a fight. I asked the King if he had received any encouragement of support from members of the Balkan Entente and from England and France. He replied that his Minister at Belgrade had informed him that the Yugoslav Government believed that Italy was only bluffing and did not intend to occupy Albania.

I asked the King if he had any message which he wished to transmit to my Government. The King replied that he would be pleased if I would convey to President Roosevelt his cordial and friendly greetings and stated that in his judgment the great democracies must either decide to strengthen themselves to the point where they may successfully meet the aggression of the totalitarian powers or else see the small and weak countries swallowed up one by one.

The King’s general demeanor was calm but during the course of the conversation which lasted for nearly one hour he manifested strong emotion especially when he stated that Italian aggression would not be met in Albania as it was in Czechoslovakia.13 He said that he would not under any circumstances agree to sign away his country as the President of the Czechoslovak Republic has done. He referred with a touch of bitterness in his voice to the fact that the Italians launched their offensive at the very moment when the Queen was giving birth to a child. At this particular moment he gazed out of the window and I could see plainly tears welling up in his eyes. He controlled himself with difficulty at this moment. He gave the impression of a man who felt bitter disappointment and that he had been grossly betrayed.

At 4:30 this afternoon 50 Italian planes grouped in squadrons of 10 flew at a high altitude over Tirana coming from the southwest and disappearing toward the western shore of the Adriatic. While the planes were flying overhead a tremendous demonstration by a crowd of several thousands of Albanians was staged in the principal square of Tirana. Hundreds of young Albanians were shouting for arms with which to defend their country. A delegation from the crowd attempted to see the Bang late this afternoon and at 8 o’clock approximately 2,000 Albanian young men and boys carrying Albanian flags and shouting “long live Albania, long live our freedom, long live the [Page 374] United States and long live President Roosevelt” entered the Legation compound and paraded around the grounds.

The special Cabinet and parliamentary meeting early this evening voted to reject the Italian demands and to resist by force the landing of Italian troops but indicated that it would be willing to discuss with the Italian Government the Italo-Albanian Treaty of Alliance with a view of clarifying questions which are now in dispute concerning military obligations. In this connection it was suggested informally to the Italian Minister that he transmit to his Government the suggestion that General Parianti, Italian Secretary of War who several years ago served as chief of the Military Department of the Royal Court, should come to Albania in order to discuss the questions at issue. The Italian Minister, I am reliably informed, did not give much encouragement to the suggestion but it is believed he would transmit the request. It would appear that the Albanian Government is not only earnestly seeking a solution of the difficulties with which it is confronted but is playing for time with a view of securing assistance from the outside and also to provide an opportunity for the safe removal of the Queen who gave birth to a child yesterday morning.