Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Lovett)

Participants: The French Ambassador1
The Under Secretary
Mr. Schwartz, AF

Mr. Bonnet called on instructions of his Government to discuss with me the question of the former Italian Colonies. He said that his Government wished to exchange views with the American Government, and with the British Government, before the Deputies to the Foreign Ministers began discussing this subject in London.

The Ambassador said that the French Government had no strong views on Italian Somaliland and Eritrea and felt that the disposition of these two areas could be resolved without much difficulty, probably by returning them to Italy but with border rectifications and a corridor to the sea for Ethiopia.

The important problem, according to Mr. Bonnet, is concerned with Cyrenaica and Tripolitania and he based the following French argument in favor of the return of these two areas to Italy on the belief of the French Government that Great Britain wishes to make them independent:

Tripolitania and Cyrenaica play an important part in the internal Italian political picture. If they are not returned to Italy, it will be a blow to the Government and provide ammunition for the communists. Italy needs some place to send part of her excess population. France wishes to help Italy morally and economically.
Italian settlers were driven out of Cyrenaica in 1941 and, as a result, the economic life of the country, which flourished under the Italians, has been ruined and the farms are in bad condition. If Tripolitania were made independent the same results would occur because the Italian residents would certainly be driven out.
The strategic interests of Great Britain and the United States could not be provided for if these areas were made independent because it would be impossible to make the necessary arrangements with the Arabs. Furthermore, independence would result in chaos which would be harmful to the security of the Mediterranean area. Mr. Bonnet brought up and dismissed the argument that the return of the Italians would result in an Arab revolt by saying that the competent French experts on the subject did not believe disturbances would take place if the British turned over the administration to the Italians in an orderly fashion and in good faith. There might be some trouble in Cyrenaica but not in Tripolitania. He made it clear that the French felt much more strongly about the Italians having Tripolitania than Cyrenaica and the French line on this point seems to be that the Italians must have “at least” Tripolitania.

I speculated that if we returned Tripolitania and Cyrenaica to Italy and Mr. Togliatti2 subsequently gained power in Italy, we would, in effect, have presented the Russians with control over a very important part of North Africa. Mr. Bonnet’s reply was that the area would come under the general supervision of the Trusteeship Council and that all political moves involve some risk.

I explained that although we were interested in hearing the French views on this subject, we had not as yet reached a firm decision. The Ambassador said that his Government wanted to make its views known to us before we reached a final decision and offered to have experts of the Foreign Office meet with the appropriate officials of the State Department either in Paris or Washington as soon as we were in a position to carry on discussions.

  1. Henri Bonnet.
  2. Palmiro Togliatti, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Italy.