The Ambassador in Italy (Phillips) to the Secretary of State
[Received April 21—4:35 p.m.]
571. The following is a translation of a statement read to foreign newspaper correspondents at the press conference at the Ministry of Popular Culture today: [Page 806]
“You will recall that in the declaration which was read to you during this press conference on April 9, 1941, on the question of the seizure of Italian ships by the United States,14 reference was made to the fact that the Washington Government had requested the recall of Admiral Lais, Italian Naval Attaché to the United States, with an explanation which gave rise to the assumption that it held him morally responsible for the damage done by Italian crews to the ships given into their custody.
Some days later the Fascist Government requested of the Washington Government the recall from Rome of Captain Bentley, Assistant Military and Air Attaché of the United States Embassy at Rome.
Secretary of State Cordell Hull in announcing this request for Captain Bentley’s recall at the usual press conference ventured to remark that ‘certain governments today intent upon lawless activities do not hesitate to show resentment for activities of foreign representatives and governments within the bounds of the law’.
In connection with this surprising statement by Secretary of State Cordell Hull, the Fascist [Government?] desires to make the following public:
- Admiral Lais’ activities in Washington have always remained strictly within the legitimate bounds of his duties which he has always fulfilled in the most commendable manner.
- The decision taken by the Fascist Government to regard Captain Bentley as persona non grata is not to be interpreted as a measure of reprisal for the departure of Admiral Lais from Washington although a measure of this kind would be wholly legitimate and justified but as a decision dictated by definite reasons which has been and can be checked regarding Captain Bentley’s activity, which activity certainly went beyond his official duties quite aside from the question of his obligations as guest of a country at war.
- During this same conference the juridical and moral considerations militating in favor of the Italian protest against the illegal seizure of our ships in American ports were amply explained to you. The gratuitous insults launched against the alleged ‘lawless governments’ might easily be turned against governments which, after perpetrating gestures of rapine against merchant ships which in no way belong to them, claim that such ships should be delivered to them with all flags flying in sign of rejoicing.”
Correspondents are permitted to attribute statements of this nature to “competent quarters” but are not ordinarily allowed to describe them as coming from an “official” source.
Text of the April 9th press conference statement is being forwarded by mail.
[Admiral Lais was detained by the British a few days in Bermuda pending arrangements for the safe return by the Italians of Mr. Ronald Campbell, British Minister to Yugoslavia, and staff, who had fallen into the hands of the Italian Forces in Yugoslavia. The United States lent its good offices in reaching satisfactory arrangements regarding this matter by the British and Italian Governments.]