The Minister in Ethiopia ( Merrell ) to the Secretary of State
40. Although Aklilou1 and Spencer2 have indicated that Emperor considers Soviet declaration most serious, it is noteworthy that published Ethiopian official reaction to Soviet communication to Italian Govt re return of former Italian colonies in Africa to Italian control has so far been of mildest sort. This may be attributed to belief that Soviet statement was merely intended to influence Italian elections and not meant (as stated by Soviet Chargé,3 in talk with Foreign Minister (Legtel 38, February 24)4 to be against interests of Ethiopia but to avoid establishment of American and British bases in Libya, Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. This was theme developed in editorial in govt controlled Ethiopian Herald, February 23. It sees great powers jockeying for control of Italy and its former colonies, particularly for Libya. [Page 900] Libyan air bases in British or American control would make Balkans highly vulnerable to air attack in event of war “which world fears might break out sooner or later” and would be threat to Soviet defense. Justice of Ethiopia claims to Eritrea and Somaliland is evidently not controlling consideration in this Soviet move. Soviet note seen as means of trying to win hand of “bawdy heroine” and part of drama in which “tragedy is almost visible on horizon”.
Sent Dept, repeated Rome as 2; repeated Moscow as 2.