Roosevelt Papers

The Secretary of State to the President1

top secret

Memorandum for the President

Subject: Proposals of British Chiefs of Staff for Disposition of Italian Overseas Territories

I refer to your memorandum of April 282 in regard to certain proposals of the British Chiefs of Staff for the future disposition of Italian overseas territories.3

In accordance with your request, I am enclosing a memorandum on the subject which embodies the comments and recommendations of the experts in the Department charged with these matters. While the conclusions drawn are in no sense final, they represent long and careful study.

I may add that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have expressed the view that from the limited viewpoint of our national security, there are no direct objections to the British proposals for the disposition of Italian overseas territories since United States postwar military interests are not directly affected.4 From the broader view of national and world-wide [Page 409] security, however, the Chiefs of Staff have expressed the opinion that the United States should not support any such British proposals prior to ascertaining Russian views.

In my memorandum of May 65 I mentioned that according to our information the proposals in question had not been considered by the British War Cabinet and in no way represented the policy of the British Government. I have, therefore, not discussed the subject with the British nor has any indication been given that we are aware of these particular proposals of the British Chiefs of Staff.

C[ordell] H[ull]

Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State

top secret


[Subject:] Comment on British Proposals for Disposition of Italian Overseas Territories

1. The preferred solution to the problem of Eritrea is for all of this territory to be assimilated to Ethiopia under an arrangement whereby the Ethiopian Government would assume certain obligations by agreement with the International Organization. Among these obligations would be an undertaking by Ethiopia, in the event of a threat to the security of the Red Sea or Northeast African areas, to open all ports, airfields and means of communication in Eritrea to the forces of the United Nations. Such obligations would also include the employment, in both Eritrea and Ethiopia, of technical personnel for the operation of ports, railways and roads, and of technical experts and advisers in the central and provincial government and administration.

This arrangement would satisfy the claims of Ethiopia for the return of Eritrea and for an outlet to the sea at Massawa, under safeguards for proper administration and with due regard for the security interests of the United Nations. However, if the British should insist, for overriding strategic reasons, on the dismemberment of Eritrea, so that a portion of the territory would be ceded to the Sudan, no objections are perceived strong enough to justify the opposition of this Government, provided that the area ceded lies north and west of Asmara and Massawa.

The Greater New Somaliland as proposed by the British would include Italian and British Somaliland and the Ogaden district of Ethiopia. Since the Ogaden is an integral part of the territory of an [Page 410] independent sovereign state and ally, a change in its status should not be considered. On the other hand, economic, administrative and cultural considerations support the view that Italian Somaliland, together with the British and French Somalilands, might advantageously be placed under International Trusteeship and directly administered as a single unit by an authority appointed by and responsible to the International Organization. Such an authority should be composed of experts or of representatives of the interested powers. If it should prove impossible to obtain French acceptance of this plan, it would still appear desirable to place Italian and British Somalilands under International Trusteeship, with special arrangements for a genuinely free port at Djibouti and the possible purchase of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway by Ethiopia.

No objection is perceived to the fusion of the northern frontier district of Kenya with a greater Somaliland, as mentioned in the British proposals.

2. Libya. The preferred disposition of Libya would be to place this entire area (Cyrenaica and Tripolitania) under International Trusteeship to be administered by a commission of experts responsible to the International Organization. This would not preclude the establishment of an autonomous Amirate of the Senussi, whom the British have declared shall never again come under Italian rule.6 However, if it should prove difficult to obtain British agreement to this over-all solution, a feasible though less desirable arrangement would be to establish Cyrenaica as an autonomous Senussi Amirate under Egyptian (or possibly British) trusteeship, along the lines of the British proposal, and to place Tripolitania under an International Trusteeship to be exercised by Italy.

3. It would be taken for granted that United Nations air and naval requirements would be satisfied in the Benghazi area. Likewise, should Great Britain wish to use the Castel Benito airfield for security purposes, there would be no objection, provided that no exclusive commerical rights or privileges were involved.

4. Limited frontier rectifications in the Fezzan area favoring the French would not appear objectionable, but any outright cession of territory in violation of the Atlantic Charter would be undesirable.

5. No compelling reasons are perceived for the return of the Uweinat oasis or the Sarra triangle to the Sudan, particularly in view of the possible violation of the Atlantic Charter thereby.

6. The Department is in accord with the British suggestion that some United Nations security scheme might provide for bases in Crete—possibly administered by the British—and for similar facilities [Page 411] in the Islands of the Dodecanese, particularly Rhodes. It is agreed that with the exception of Castelrosso, which would be given to Turkey, sovereignty over the Dodecanese should be transferred to Greece.

7. Pantelleria and the Isole Pelagie should be retained by Italy but completely demilitarized.

  1. Sent by pouch to Quebec, where Roosevelt made the paper available to Churchill and approved the making of a copy for the British authorities. See post, p. 418, including fn. 2. The Department of State record copy of this memorandum is on file 865.014/4-2844.
  2. Not printed (865.014/4-2844).
  3. These proposals, as summarized by Hull in a memorandum to Roosevelt dated April 26, 1944, on the basis of information received from the United States Mission at Algiers, were as follows:

    • “1. Eritrea would be dismembered with the western highlands going to the Sudan and the highlands and Danakil coastal plain to Ethiopia. It is assumed that the United Nations would not request a base at Massawa. A greater new Somaliland would be created including Italian Somaliland, the northern frontier district of Kenya and British and Ethiopian Ogaden Somaliland, the whole preferably under British trusteeship.
    • “2. Cyrenaica would be an autonomous principality under Egyptian suzerainty with adequate safeguards for United Nations military requirements, including facilities for air and naval bases in the Benghazi area. The offer of suzerainty to Egypt is considered a useful bargaining counter.
    • “3. Tripolitania would be restored to Italy subject to guarantees of demilitarization and retention by the British of the right to use Gastel Benito Airfield as a staging point.
    • “4. There would be frontier readjustments with the French except in the Fezzan area.
    • “5. The Oweinat and Sarra triangle would be returned to the Sudan.
    • “6. Castelrosso would go to Turkey and the remainder of the Dodecanese to Greece, subject to the right of Great Britain to use bases in Crete and other facilities for bases in the islands, particularly Rhodes. Such facilities might be provided under some United Nations scheme.
    • “7. Pantelleria and the Pelagians would be under effective British control either directly or through some general security scheme.” (865.014/210)

  4. See Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, p. 107, fn. 4.
  5. Not printed (865.014/212b).
  6. Eden had made a statement to this effect in the House of Commons on January 8, 1942. See Parliamentary Debates: House of Commons Official Report, 5th series, vol. 377, col. 78.