865.014/7–1548: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Douglas) to the Secretary of State

top secret

3203. 1. I have now received the following informal communication from Bevin (reference Embtel 3098)1 in extension of his views:

“You will recall that when you came to see me on Saturday morning you raised with me the question of the former Italian colonies and said that the United States Government were most anxious to avoid a meeting of the CFM in this connection, and I promised to let you have a note of my views on this as soon as possible.

“As I told you on Saturday, it has always been my understanding that the disposal of the former Italian colonies would have to be [Page 920] discussed by the four Foreign Ministers unless all four powers were agreed that no meeting need be held. There is no doubt that it was the intention when Annex XI of the Italian peace treaty was drafted that this meeting should take place, and the wording of paragraph four of the annex seems to us to leave no reasonable doubt that this is the meaning of the treaty.

“The possibility of all four powers agreeing that no meeting should be held seems remote. We can expect the Russians to press for a meeting. I feel that it would be a mistake on our part to refuse to take part in or evade such a meeting although it might reasonably be stipulated that in view of the delays which the deputies time-table has suffered, it cannot now be held until the beginning of September. Any discussions about the ex-Italian colonies would, of course, in any case have to be completed by the fifteenth of that month when the matter passes out of the hands of the Foreign Ministers and comes into the province of the General Assembly. If we were to try to get out of the meeting, it would land us in a procedural wrangle with the Soviets which I am anxious to avoid. Our ground would not be a strong one, and the Soviets would no doubt try to exploit our attitude in the subsequent discussions in the Assembly. They would allege that we were guilty of a breach of the peace treaty, and it might even give an opening for another power to justify breaking the treaty in some quite unrelated matter if they wished to do so.

“I would suggest that this question might be gone into further between the experts of our two governments who are meeting here in a week’s time to discuss the former Italian colonies question.”

2. It appears to me that, while the intent of paragraph four of Annex XI Italian peace treaty was that a meeting of the CFM should be held, the wording of the paragraph does not absolutely require it, especially if, as is likely, the deputies do not agree on recommendations.

3. However, the legal case can be argued both ways, and I presume that only if our objections on political grounds are strong enough, can Bevin be persuaded to change his views. The attitude of the French on this question may carry weight with him. There is already a minority school of thought in Foreign Office on our side and I am certain that Bevin will consider carefully anything more which we may have to say on this subject. Although I can imagine most of the objections, I should appreciate receiving a more detailed statement of the Department political objections to a CFM meeting so that I can discuss the matter further with Bevin.

4. While I agree this question can usefully be discussed by experts here next week it involves what is essentially a high level decision on political grounds and the best the experts can do will be to set forth the pros and cons upon which we ourselves, the British and the French will take a decision.

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5. We have also talked with the French Embassy here and they were unaware of Chauvel’s answer to Caffery (reference Paris telegram 3640).2 They stated that their preparatory studies led them to believe that a CFM meeting for Itcol was legally necessary.

6. While political question may be paramount the legal considerations would also be helpful.

Sent Department 3203; repeated Paris 3811, Rome 156.

  1. Not printed: it reported Bevin’s preliminary views on the convening of the Council of Foreign Ministers (865.014/7–1048).
  2. Not printed; in it Chauvel stated that he felt a CFM meeting would be inadvisable (865.014/7–748).