The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt

My Dear Mr. President: With reference to the attached Aide-Mémoire33 which Mr. Yilma Deressa, the Ethiopian Vice Minister of Finance and delegate to the recent Food Conference, handed to you during the course of his interview with you on July 13, it is true, as stated by Mr. Deressa, that following the occupation of Addis Ababa by British forces in April 1941, Ethiopia was administered by the British as enemy occupied territory. While the Emperor was permitted to return to Addis Ababa in May of that year his field of action was closely restricted by the British during the prolonged period of negotiations leading up to the signing of the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement and Military Convention on January 31, 1942,34 and on the face of available evidence the British during this period administered the affairs of the country with a heavy hand.

However, in extenuation of the British action, it is well to point out that Ethiopia was at that time in a state of anarchy, with large bands of tribesmen roaming the country bent on robbery and destruction, while military operations against the Italians were not concluded until the following November. The authority of the Emperor was [Page 107] in doubt, or completely repudiated, over wide areas. Military security, as well as protection for the large numbers of Italian civilians and other white residents of the country, doubtless demanded, in the face of the prevailing troubled conditions, a firm hold on the situation.

Nevertheless, the Emperor and his immediate followers were impatient with the refusal of the British to turn over the policing and administration of the country to the Ethiopians. This impatience seems to have been brusquely brushed aside by the British authorities. Perhaps the Emperor was, as the British contended, overestimating his strength and his capacity to restore order and reestablish effective government, but less highhandedness and more tact on the part of the British would probably have avoided the strained relations which soon rose between the Ethiopians and the British, a condition which has become, it seems, more poisoned as time has passed. It appears, However, that this trend has been due more to the reportedly low quality of the officials which the British appointed to fill the posts provided for in the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement than to any harsh policy of the British Government itself toward Ethiopia. The fact that the fiscal position of the country was in a state of collapse when the British took over and that under the terms of the Agreement the British have made substantial grants of money to enable the Emperor to reestablish his administration seems not to have made the Ethiopians any more tolerant of the presence of these British officials. In general, it does not appear that the terms of the Agreement were onerous, having regard to the special circumstances existing in Ethiopia. It is thus not so much in the actual terms of the Agreement as in the distorted and vexatious application by local officials of those terms which is so distasteful to the Ethiopians.

The Ethiopians are therefore determined, as the Emperor and the several cabinet officials made abundantly clear to our Consul at Asmara prior to the closing on June 1 of our office there, to rid the country as soon as possible of British personnel. This explains why the Emperor is so anxious to prepare for the replacement of the present Agreement, as provided for in Article XII, which reads, in part:

“The present Agreement shall enter in force as from this day’s date. (January 31, 1942.) It shall remain in force until replaced by a Treaty for which His Majesty the Emperor may wish to make proposals. If it is not so replaced within two years from this date, it may thereafter be terminated at any time by either Party giving three months’ notice to the other to this effect.”

As pointed out in the Aide-Mémoire by Mr. Deressa, the Emperor desires the assistance of an American jurist to assist him in drafting a new treaty, and in line with a previously expressed request by Mr. Deressa an effort is being made by the Department to find a suitable [Page 108] candidate for the position of legal adviser to the Ethiopian Government. Consideration has already been given to two persons and a third is under consideration now. The appeal of the Emperor, as expressed by Mr. Deressa, for the “diplomatic cooperation” of this Government in connection with the drafting and negotiation of a new Anglo-Ethiopian treaty would seem to imply a desire on the part of Ethiopia that we use our good office with the British in gaining terms, more satisfactory to the Ethiopians in any future treaty which might be signed. Possibly an expression of our interest in the matter to the British Ambassador at the appropriate time might be desirable.

As regards the desire of the Ethiopians to obtain a direct outlet to the sea, to which Mr. Deressa also refers in his Aide-Mémoire, this aspiration is understandable, since under existing conditions Ethiopia is entirely dependent upon the mercy of the British and the French for the conduct of the nation’s foreign trade. This, of course, places, serious obstacles in the way of Ethiopia’s economic independence and prosperity. It is our opinion that a fairly strong case could be made in support of the Ethiopian contention that Eritrea, or a part of it, should be incorporated into Ethiopia. Such action would yield the Ethiopians an outlet to the sea, and thus meet their aspirations in this, direction, while avoiding the complicated and contentious question of securing an outlet through Djibouti, although because of the railway from that port to Addis Ababa it seems probable that this route would continue to be used to a considerable degree.

With respect to the desire of the Ethiopian Government to obtain a loan from the United States, a matter to which Mr. Deressa alludes in the latter part of his Aide-Mémoire, Mr. Deressa addressed a communication to the Department on this subject on July 12, requesting financial assistance in the sum of $50,000,000, ten million dollars of which would be used for currency stabilization purposes and forty million dollars for the development of Ethiopian resources and the purchase of essential goods. In principle, the Department is disposed to support the extension of financial aid to Ethiopia, in order to assist the country in restoring its economy and thereby contribute in a greater degree to the war effort, although it may be impracticable to make a loan in the amount requested. In any case, the matter, having received favorable tentative consideration in the Department, is now being taken up with the Treasury Department and the Export-Import Bank.

Faithfully yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. Supra.
  2. Signed at Addis Ababa, January 31, 1942, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxliv, p. 989.