Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs ( Henderson ) to the Under Secretary of State ( Lovett )

top secret

Subject: Discussions with British on Former Italian Colonies.


To decide whether, in the light of the current situation in Palestine and the resulting unrest in the Near East, we should comply with the [Page 909] British suggestion that further Anglo-American talks should be held in the near future on the disposal of the former Italian Colonies.


On April 20th, Mr. Dennis Allen, Counselor of the British Embassy, suggested informally on instructions from Michael Wright in the Foreign Office that further talks between the British and American Governments should be held “at a fairly early date” regarding the future of the former Italian Colonies. I replied at that time that we would be glad to consider this suggestion and that I would take the matter up with the interested officials in the Department. I added, however, that I was extremely pessimistic about the general situation in the Near East and that it seemed pointless for us to discuss at this time problems like the Italian Colonies while developments in Palestine were nullifying all of our efforts in the Near East.1 I expressed some doubt as to whether there was any point in discussing the Colonies until a better idea was obtained as to what would happen in Palestine.

The Four Power Commission of Investigation will have completed its field investigations by May 23rd, at which time it will return to London in order to write its report on Libya. After the report has been completed and studied by the Four Powers, the Deputies will proceed to discuss the future of the territories. It is probable that this will take place the latter part of June or early July and it will be necessary for this Government to be prepared with its final position on the matter at that time.


In view of the foregoing, it is recommended that I be authorized to talk to Dennis Allen along the following lines:

“We have carefully considered Michael Wright’s informal suggestion that further talks be held between our two Governments regarding the future of the Italian Colonies. As I told you on April 20th, however, we think that it would be useless to discuss this matter until a better idea can be obtained as to what will happen in Palestine. Moreover, we are still in the process of formulating our own tentative position on this subject. Although we realize that there is an important time factor in this situation, we feel that it would be better to postpone further talks until after we have had an opportunity to observe how the Palestine situation develops and to clarify our own thinking. Before adopting a final position, we do, however, wish to discuss the matter with the British Government in detail.

“The Four Power Commission of Investigation will complete its field work on May 23rd at which time it will return to London to write its report on Libya. Based on experience to date, it would seem unlikely that the report will be finished before the latter part of June. We are [Page 910] tentatively giving ourselves until the 1st of July before we have to take a definite position in the Deputies’ meetings regarding our proposals for the future of these territories. If any of the other Powers involved should suggest that the actual problem of the disposition of the territories should be discussed before that time, we would take the attitude that we require at least until July 1 to study the report on Libya. We hope that the British Government will support us in this point of view.

“Assuming that we shall have until July 1 before having to take a definitive position, we wish to suggest that the talks should be held during the week of June 7th. Due to preoccupation with other problems, it would be very difficult for us to send anybody to London and we would, therefore, prefer to have the talks held in Washington.

“We understand that Sir Noel Charles informally suggested to Mr. Gallman the desirability of holding joint Anglo-French-American talks on this subject. We are in accord with the desirability of such talks and suggest that they should be held as soon as possible after the conclusion of the Anglo-American talks”.

L. W. H[enderson]
  1. For documentation on the Palestine question, see volume v.