Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray)
The Greek Minister called on me this morning to discuss the situation created by the Italian occupation of Albania.[Page 391]
Mr. Sicilianos had received no expression of his Government’s views on this subject but he stated quite frankly that in his opinion the Italian occupation of Albania represents a grave peril for Greece and in the first instance for the Island of Corfu, which is in close proximity to the southernmost point of Albania. The Minister feared that even if the Italians do not start a drive eastward from Albania, through northern Greece, they may at any time seize the Island of Corfu because of its strategic importance in that region.
With regard to the steps that Greece might conceivably take to protect itself against Italian aggression, the Minister made the following points:
- In its precarious position, due to the Italian occupation of Albania, Greece can only hope and pray for an opportunity to remain neutral should any conflict break out between the totalitarian powers and the European democracies. Greece cannot and will not follow the Polish example in entering into any “Stop Hitler” arrangement, since she would instantly become an object of totalitarian vengeance before aid from the democracies could arrive.
- In view of the above, British and French aid to Greece will have to take the form of a unilateral guarantee to Greece to regard any attack upon her by the totalitarian powers as a casus belli.
- The attitude of Yugoslavia in the present crisis is of the utmost importance to Greece. If Greece could be assured of military assistance from Yugoslavia she could face the Italian threat with some confidence of being able to defend herself. The Minister realized, however, that Yugoslavia’s present situation is in itself perilous, hemmed in as she is on the north and the west by Germany and Italy, and with Albania under Italian occupation.
- Greece regards Turkey as a faithful and dependable ally but doubts the willingness or ability of Turkey to come to her military aid in so distant an area as the Epirus, which is the point where Italian aggression against Greece would be initiated.
- The importance of Bulgaria in the present picture cannot be overestimated. If Bulgaria could by immediate and adequate inducements be persuaded to stand with the members of the Balkan Entente in resisting aggression in that area the prospects would be greatly improved. Unfortunately, Bulgaria’s demands on both Rumania and Greece have until now been refused and she has not joined the Balkan Entente. At the last meeting of the Balkan Entente Yugoslavia and Turkey strongly urged upon Rumania the necessity of restoring Dobrudja to Bulgaria and upon Greece the necessity of meeting the Bulgarian demand for an outlet to the Aegean at Kavalla. Neither country was willing to make the sacrifice, and Bulgaria may therefore be expected to be tempted by any totalitarian promises for the purposes of realizing her above-mentioned aims.
- The Minister has no confidence whatsoever in Rumania’s ability to resist German pressure unless she cedes back to Hungary a large portion of Transylvania, which was detached from Hungary after the World War. Only by such a sacrifice on the part of Rumania can there be any hope of preventing Hungary from throwing in her lot [Page 392] with Germany for the purpose of realizing her territorial ambitions against Rumania. The Minister emphasized in this connection that the Poles, although in treaty alliance with Rumania, would never be willing to support Rumania against an attack from Hungary in view of the close ties of friendship mat bind the Poles and the Hungarians.
During the course of my conversation with the Minister he mentioned his fear that the first objective of any Italian push through northern Greece would be Salonika, which is of vital interest to Yugoslavia. He said he trusted that any Italian threat to Salonika would immediately arouse the Yugoslavs to come to its defense. He said he realized of course the danger that the Italians in any drive on Salonika might endeavor to quiet the Yugoslavs by promising them eventual possession of that coveted port on the Aegean.