740.0011 European War 1939/26913/7: Telegram

The Ambassador in Italy (Phillips) to the Secretary of State

420. Department’s 140, May 26, 3 p.m. Ciano received me this morning at 11:30. I told him that I had a very important message from the President which I had been instructed to deliver orally to the Duce but I would be glad to have him read it for his information. Ciano replied that Mussolini would be unable to receive me but that he himself would receive the message and with my permission would take a few notes of its contents. This he proceeded to do with attentive care and I did not feel that I could press further my request for an interview with Mussolini. When he had concluded I asked him if he could give me any idea of the nature of the reply. He said with conviction “it would be a no” and he went on to explain that Mussolini’s position was not merely a question of securing Italy’s legitimate aspirations but that the Duce was determined to carry out his obligations under his alliance with Germany. He added that Mussolini was out at the moment but would return later in the day and the Minister promised to send for me at once as soon as he was in a position to communicate the reply.

I asked the Minister whether he fully realized the importance and the seriousness of the President’s message. He admitted that he did so but that nothing now could alter the situation. He added that he could not tell me precisely when Italy would enter the war; it will not be possible for a few days and it might not be for a few weeks but he said that “it will happen soon”. In conclusion he asked me with regard to the attitude of the United States. I reminded him of the President’s program for an immense defensive armament. Ciano merely replied that he assumed the United States was in sympathy with the Allies just as Italy was in sympathy with Germany.

At 1 o’clock Ciano sent for me and told me that Mussolini had confirmed the statements which he, Ciano, had made to me earlier in the day. The Minister stated that Mussolini desired to preserve his “freedom of action” and was not disposed to enter into any negotiations which in fact, however, would not be in the spirit of Fascism. He emphasized the point that Mussolini had the responsibility of the “fulfillment of an engagement—of words given” and he added that “any [Page 713] attempt to prevent Italy from fulfilling her engagements is not well regarded.”