Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

Participants: The Secretary
Ambassador Tarchiani
Mr. Dowling

The Italian Ambassador called at his request this afternoon to say that he was returning to Rome for brief consultations, now that the elections were successfully over. He said he had no doubt that his Government’s future policy would be full cooperation with the West, but that the military aspect of this cooperation did present a problem.

At present, Tarchiani continued, it appeared that the Soviets had decided against direct action by the Italian Communists. It might be assumed therefore that Moscow was in doubt as to what course to follow in Western Europe. The Italian Government was still apprehensive, [Page 798] however, regarding the Yugoslav attitude, which remains menacing in spite of various conciliatory moves from Italy.

Tarchiani explained that the Yugoslav attitude, together with the feeling that the Soviet Union was now in effect a neighbor of Italy, resulted in an awareness of Italy’s vulnerable position. He pointed out that the Italian Army was at present able to maintain only seven infantry divisions on the Yugoslav frontier, and went on to say that the Italian Government realized Italy could not stand alone but must if possible enter into a scheme of Western European defense, which would have the support of the United States if that could be obtained. In this connection, he referred to the limitations on the Italian armed forces under the Italian treaty.

With regard to possible American support for the defense of Western Europe, I reminded the Ambassador of the President’s statement of March 171 and said that we are now considering our position in this regard. I added that as regards the military limitations of the Italian treaty I realized that the normal procedures for revision were subject to Soviet veto, and that this created an awkward situation for the Italian Government. Tarchiani interjected that he himself felt that Italy’s requirements could best be met by a small, efficient armed force; that this force was also required in the European interest; and that its limitations might be worked out in the European defense scheme. He agreed that quality and leadership were of paramount importance to the Italian armed forces, and that budgetary considerations must be given much weight by the Italian Government.

After some further discussion of the Italian military situation, I inquired of Tarchiani regarding the Government’s program for carrying out the reforms promised during the electorial campaign, and alluded to the importance of the attitude of the people toward the government in assessing a capacity for defense. Tarchiani said that many of Italy’s problems were three thousand years old, but he was convinced De Gasperi would do everything he could to put through a program of economic and social reforms. He added that Italy’s greatest problem was insufficient land for its large population, and spoke of the necessity for increased emigration. I told him I was glad to hear of De Gasperi’s plans to carry out the promised reforms, as we regarded this as of great importance.

In conclusion, Tarchiani inquired regarding our attitude toward Italy’s entry into the Western Union. I replied that although I appreciated [Page 799] the complications on both sides, I hoped Italy would join.2 Tarchiani thanked me and said he was grateful for this conversation before his departure.

  1. For the text of the President’s message to the Congress on March 17, see Department of State Bulletin, March 28, 1948, p. 418, or Public Papers of the Presidents, Harry S. Truman, 1948, p. 182.
  2. In a memorandum of May 4, 1948, briefing the Secretary for Tarchiani’s visit, not printed, Hickerson suggested “that you explain to Tarchiani that we are studying our own position with regard to the defense of Western Europe and that we hope for some development within the next few weeks. Finally, you may wish to give Tarchiani some assurance that Italy would not be abandoned by the United States in the event of aggression against the Italian people.” (711.65/5–448)