740.0011 Stettinius Mission/47: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Winant ) to the Secretary of State

3289. Deles 24. From Stettinius. As earlier telegrams from MacVeagh indicated to be the case, the British have been bringing all possible pressure upon King Peter to get rid of the Pouritch government. Sir Orme Sargent and Ambassador Stevenson discussed British policy with regard to Yugoslavia at some length with Matthews74 yesterday. They began by frankly saying that British policy toward Yugoslavia is based on the short term policy of giving the British [Partisan?] military all possible support; the long term view would imply greater consideration for Mihailovich. (They did not admit that Russian support of Tito was a factor in their policy nor did they throw any light on future Russian plans for Yugoslavia. They feel that Russian policy is one of day to day military opportunism and that present support of Tito, who is fighting the Germans, will not at some future time preclude a Russian shift of policy toward Mihailovich and his Serbs when the country is liberated.) They said that they had lost all hope of bringing about any reconciliation between King Peter and Tito; the latter has made it clear that he does not wish to have the King return to Yugoslavia during the war nor will he cooperate with any government which the King may set up. The British do feel that in view of Mihailovich’s reported cooperation with the Germans, and in order to minimize Tito’s opposition to the King, the present intransigent group must go. The only person the British see in sight [Page 1363] to head a new government is the Ban of Croatia75 and they understand that King Peter has asked him to come to England at least to talk. The British endeavors to induce King Peter to drop the Pouritch government culminated in a long interview with Mr. Churchill several days ago followed by the similar appeal by King George VI himself. They say that as yet King Peter has reached no final decision.

Coupled with any change of government the British attach much importance to a declaration they would like King Peter to make of a general conciliatory nature. This declaration would be a plea for unity, appealing to all his people to concentrate their efforts on ousting the invader and promising to let the people decide the character of their government after Yugoslavia is liberated. As to Mihailovich, he would be dropped from his post of Minister of War but would continue, under the British plan, to be Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The British believe that any effort to oust him from the latter position would not only be futile but would prove to be a boomerang and weaken the King’s prestige in Old Serbia. However much they dislike the collaboration that some of Mihailovich’s officers have given the Germans (they admit that he himself has never cooperated with the Germans) they recognize how strong his popular support in Serbia is and its probable lasting nature.

Matthews inquired what the British would do if King Peter declines to follow their advice. Sargent answered that they would then have to reexamine their position. In reply to a further question as to whether the British contemplated the possibility of recognizing the Tito regime as a government, Sargent answered in the negative. If King Peter, as they hope, does follow their advice they will view his new government as a somewhat stop-gap arrangement for the period of the war and confined to relative inactivity.

It was interesting to note that their present military jurisdictional rearrangement provides that Yugoslavia (and Albania) shall be handled from Bari and Algiers by Macmillan rather than from Cairo where the rest of the Balkans will head up. They say that this is purely for military operational reasons and the facility with which communications with and supplies for Tito can be handled from Italy. Matthews informed Sargent and Stevenson that our policy with regard to Yugoslavia is based upon the Secretary’s statement of last October;76 that we will continue our established policy of giving military aid to all who are fighting the Axis; that on the other hand [Page 1364] we feel that Yugoslav political problems must await decision until the Yugoslav people are free to make their choice after the liberation of the country; in the interim we have no intention of recognizing the Tito regime as a government and will continue to recognize King Peter and whatever administration he chooses as the legal government of Yugoslavia. He added that we did not intend to bring pressure upon King Peter to make changes desired by the British (nor have they asked this here). Sargent expressed understanding of this view adding that he thought both our Governments would be subject to increasing efforts on the part of Tito to obtain some more formal recognition of his regime. [Stettinius.]

  1. H. Freeman Matthews, Deputy Director of the Office of European Affairs, who had accompanied Mr. Stettinius to London.
  2. Ivan Subasić, former Governor of Croatia, and leader of the Croatian Peasant’s Party.
  3. The statement on Yugoslavia is probably the one made by Secretary Hull on December 10, 1943. For text, see the New York Times, December 10, 1943, p. 9, col. 2.