Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of African Affairs (Palmer)

top secret
Participants: Mr. W. D. Allen, Counselor, British Embassy
Mr. Joseph Palmer 2nd, AF

Mr. Allen called today at his own request and left the attached note regarding present British thinking on the future of Libya.

[Page 892]

In presenting the note, Mr. Allen stated that he had been instructed to emphasize to the Department that the ideas set forth in the note only represented current thinking, although such thinking was in an advanced stage.

He also stated that the group which was working on this question in London was hopeful that, in the event the American Government found it possible to support British trusteeship over both Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, it would also be willing to associate itself with the British Government in explaining the reasons therefor to the French and Italian Governments.

Mr. Allen also revealed that the working group was somewhat disturbed about the timing of this whole matter in view of the fact that, if the decision were taken to place all of Libya under British Trusteeship, the plan would be known by August or September and might have repercussions affecting the Italian vote in the November elections.

Mr. Allen was told that, as he already knew, we had not made up our minds on the Tripolitanian question and that we have been anxious to see the findings of the Commission of Investigation and to await the outcome of the Italian elections on April 4 before doing so. We would, however, give every consideration to the British note and would pass along any thoughts we had on the subject as soon as possible.


Ex Italian Colonies

As regards the future of Libya, the Foreign Office are on the verge of deciding that the advantage lies in working for a United Kingdom trusteeship for Libya as a whole (with the possible exception of the Fezzan). It will be recalled that in the recent talks1 the possibility was discussed that the United Kingdom might try for a trusteeship for Tripolitania, as well as for Cyrenaica. Apart from the strategic advantages, British representatives on the spot point out that the inhabitants of the Arab countries wish for the eventual unity of Libya and are more likely to agree to an intervening period of United Kingdom trusteeship (with full internal self-government) leading to full independence after a term of years, if the trusteeship enshrines the principle of the unity of Libya. They also point out that any attempt to place Tripolitania under Italian trusteeship would meet [Page 893] with such violent Arab opposition as to react extremely unfavourably on the prospects of a trusteeship for Cyrenaica alone.

At the same time, the Foreign Office are inclining towards an Italian trusteeship for Somaliland and at least part of Eritrea, including Massawa. In Tripolitania the Foreign Office are thinking of the return of Italian settlers now in Italy (about 60,000), the organization of Italian settlers, where possible, into community groups, adequate arrangements for courts, a bureau or special representative for the Italian community in the administration, and a proportionate number of representatives of the Italian settlers in the eventual legislative body. With regard to the last point, it would of course be necessary for the Italian settlers to renounce Italian citizenship and to become nationals of Libya, if they are to participate in any legislative body, and this seems to the Foreign Office to be in their best interests.

The Foreign Office consider it to be most important that the Emir,2 and also the leaders in Tripolitania, all of whom have asked for the advice of the British Government, should be told of the British Government’s general line before the Four-Power Commission visits Libya early in March. They would be informed that British policy would be independence for Libya as a whole, but that since further internal development was necessary before Cyrenaica and Tripolitania could stand by themselves, the British plan was for an intervening period of United Kingdom trusteeship, with complete internal autonomy. It would be pointed out to them that this might be the only alternative to Italian trusteeship, at least for Tripolitania. The Foreign Office hope that, while they would probably ask the Commission for immediate self-government, they would say that, failing this, a period of United Kingdom trusteeship on the lines suggested would be acceptable.

If the way is to be prepared in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania in the middle of February (the latest practicable date), something will have to be said to the French by the British Government in the near future in order to avoid their hearing first through Arab sources. This is also desirable in order that the French representative on the Four-Power Commission may receive suitable instructions if the French can be persuaded to agree with these ideas. Since the French will almost certainly tell the Italians, something may also have to be said to the latter.

The Foreign Office hope that the United States Government will agree to their going ahead on these lines.

  1. Presumably a reference to the “Pentagon Talks of 1947”, which are documented in Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, pp. 485 ff.; for specific references to Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, see pp. 543, 586, and 588.
  2. Emir Sidi Idris of the Senussi Order in Cyrenaica.