Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chargé in Yugoslavia (Cabot)1


After keeping me waiting for eight days on the ground that he was busy, General Velebit finally received me today at noon.

I started the conversation by saying that I was sorry to insist upon seeing him when I knew how busy he had been but that I was anxious to discuss with him the question of relations between Yugoslavia and the United States. I said that I wanted to speak very frankly. Our governments and economic systems were based on a very different philosophy. This gap, which in itself would make any understanding [Page 766] difficult, had been widened by a number of misunderstandings and incidents which had created suspicions and lack of confidence and had resulted in the bad relations now existing. There were people in each country who actually wanted bad relations with the other country. Nevertheless, I could assure him that that was not the desire of my Government; and in our first conversation2 he had emphasized that it was not the desire of his. Under these circumstances it seemed to me that it might be helpful to sit down and discuss very frankly the specific grievances each country had against the other to see why our relations were so bad and perhaps we would thereby find a means of relieving the tension.

General Velebit said very affably that he welcomed my suggestion and that he would be very happy to explain frankly why Yugoslavia felt aggrieved at the United States. He said first that Yugoslavia was a small country but that it was an independent country and that it could not accept any interference in its internal affairs. He then expatiated upon the war criminals situation. He said that the Western Allies had turned over to Norway all their Quislings, to Belgium their Degrelles,3 and to the other western countries all their traitors. Nevertheless, among the thousands of Yugoslav traitors held in Allied concentration camps practically none had been returned to Yugoslavia, even though their guilt was unquestionable. He referred to the Ustashi,4 Nedich’s5 henchmen, the Chetniks6 and the Slovene traitors. He said that not a single Italian war criminal had been sent to Yugoslavia to expiate his crimes. Yugoslavia frankly could not understand why the Allies were so tender to undoubted traitors and war criminals and so unfriendly to an Allied nation.

General Velebit then referred to other acts of the United States, which had shown a consistently unfriendly attitude toward Yugoslavia since the termination of the war. He referred to the ultimatum requiring the Yugoslav troops to evacuate Trieste in 19–15 despite [Page 767] the fact that they had been the first Allied troops to enter the city.7 He mentioned the Yugoslav-Italian frontier proposed by the Americans8 as the least favorable of any proposed and said that it would have left many Slavs in Italy, whereas practically no Italians would have been left in Yugoslavia. He said that Yugoslavia could not understand why we were so much more tender with a defeated enemy than with an ally. The same pattern had been pursued at international conference after international conference. He mentioned Yugoslav claims to Carinthia. General Velebit then referred to our long retention of the Yugoslav river boats which had done Yugoslavia grievous injury at a moment when her other means of transportation were so disrupted. He also mentioned our retention of $45,000,000 of Yugoslav gold.

General Velebit then said that I had referred to incidents but that the matters which he had spoken of were of fundamental importance to Yugoslavia. He said that with regard to the two Embassy translators and some other incidents there were undoubtedly Yugoslav officials who were over-zealous because of their feeling that the United States was unrelentingly hostile to Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, it was a source of surprise to the Yugoslav Government that we insisted upon employing only people who were anti-government and in some cases were closely linked with axis collaborationists. General Velebit talked for practically half an hour without interruption.

I said that I was very glad that he had spoken so frankly of Yugoslav grievances; that I wish to know about them myself and to inform my Government. I said that I would like to make some comments and ask some questions in regard to his remarks.

With regard to Yugoslavia’s internal affairs I said that it was perfectly true that we in the United States did not like the form of government existing in Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, we felt that it was none of our business to interfere. Neither the Embassy nor the United States Government had any knowledge whatsoever of any subversive plots, let alone any intention of aiding them. I asked whether he felt [Page 768] that we were interfering improperly in Yugoslavia’s internal affairs. General Velebit said that he did not mean to impute to us any direct interference in internal affairs. Nevertheless, extreme tenderness for the Yugoslav traitors outside of the country gave consistent encouragement to enemies of the government within the country. He knew, of course, that all the rumors flying around of Allied troops landing in Yugoslavia were ridiculous but nonetheless some credulous people believed them.

I said that his remarks brought up the second of his major complaints, that regarding traitors and war criminals. I had not had a chance to look into this matter fully since my arrival but I was not satisfied on the basis of what I had seen and heard that everything had been done which might be. I said that there were of course differences of opinion between the two Governments regarding what constituted a traitor or war criminal and that we must frankly recognize this difficulty. For example, the Yugoslav Government considered Chetniks to be traitors; in the absence of proof of collaboration we considered Chetniks mere oppositionists and would not, I was sure, turn them over. On the other hand, there could be no doubt with regard to such people as the Ustashi leaders and Nedich’s principal followers. I proposed immediately to look into this matter further to see if action could not be taken to hand over any such people who might be in our hands, since we were of course committed to hand them over.9 I said, however, that I did not know whether we had enough information to enable us to turn over specific criminals for specific crimes. I hoped that the McLean [Maclean] mission10 might further this and it was certainly a field in which I felt that we should make every effort to give satisfaction to justify [justifiied?] Yugoslav requests.

At this point, it being a quarter to one o’clock and General Velebit looking obviously somewhat distraught, I asked whether he had another appointment and he said, yes, that he had an appointment at the Ministry of Trade at one o’clock.

I then referred briefly to his point about Trieste. I said that as I understood it the line we had proposed closely followed the ethnic [Page 769] line although it undoubtedly would have left more Slavs in Italy than Italians in Yugoslavia. I pointed out, however, that it was undoubtedly President Wilson who by standing out against the other great powers saved Dalmatia for Yugoslavia after the last world war. This showed that all we sought was justice and that we were not unfriendly to Yugoslavia. With regard to Carinthia I mentioned the adverse plebiscite after the last war. General Velebit then gave me copies of their memoranda regarding this question.

Since General Velebit had to go to his appointment I asked that he receive me again as soon as possible to continue the conversation. I said that at that conversation I should like him specifically to mention to me any further grievances they had and any suggestions which they might wish to make as to how these grievances might be remedied. I said that I also had a number of matters which I wanted to bring up. As we went out I emphasized that if I were to help him it would be equally necessary for him to help me.

John M. Cabot
  1. Transmitted to the Department as enclosure 1 to despatch 673, March 3, from Belgrade, not printed.
  2. For a report on the conversation under reference, see telegram 128, February 12, from Belgrade, p. 756.
  3. Léon Degrelle was the leader of a fascist movement in German-occupied Belgium. In 1946 he was expelled from Spain whence he had fled at the end of the war.
  4. The Ustasha was a pre-war fascist-type Croatian extremist political movement. It came to power in the wartime puppet state of Croatia which was headed by the Ustasha leader Ante Pavelić.
  5. Gen. Milan Nedić was the Prime Minister of the German-puppet government of occupied Serbia, 1941–1945. Nedić was captured by Allied forces at the end of the war, and he was turned over to the Yugoslav Government in, January 1946. Regarding the handing over of Nedić to the Yugoslav authorities, see telegram 809, December 27, 1945, from Belgrade, Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. v, p. 1303.
  6. The Chetniks were the wartime Yugoslav guerrillas headed by the then Yugoslav Minister of War Draza Mihailovich. Toward the end of the war the Chetniks came into open conflict with the Communist-led Yugoslav Partisan movement.
  7. On May 15, 1945, the United States and United Kingdom Governments requested the Yugoslav Government to agree immediately to the control by the Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean of that portion of Venezia Giulia including Trieste and Pola. Yugoslav agreement to this proposal the following day resulted in the subsequent formal agreements of June 1945 setting up the joint Allied-Yugoslav occupation of Venezia Giulia. For documentation on the concern of the United States over the control of Venezia Giulia, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. iv, pp. 1103 ff.
  8. The reference here is presumably to the Yugoslav–Italian frontier proposed by the United States Delegation at the Paris session of the Council of Foreign Ministers, April 25–May 15 and June 15–July 12, 1946. The American proposal is described in the Report of the Council of Foreign Ministers’ Commission of Experts for the Investigation of the Italo-Yugoslav Boundary, Document CFM (46) 5, April 27, 1946, ibid., 1946, vol. ii, p. 140.
  9. In telegram 184, February 26, from Belgrade, not printed, Chargé Cabot reported Velebit’s concern about the surrender of Yugoslav war criminals. Cabot made the following recommendation:

    “I must strongly urge upon Department importance to my mind of taking energetic steps to see that any legitimate Yugoslav grievances in this matter are satisfied and would appreciate Department’s instruction at earliest possible date particularly regarding what I may say to Velebit. British Ambassador agrees.” (860H.00/2–2647)

  10. Maj. Gen. Fitzroy Maclean, a British Member of Parliament and commander of the wartime British Military Mission in Yugoslavia, headed a British mission in 1947 which investigated the status of those Yugoslav refugee camps in Italy which were under British jurisdiction.