865.014/7–2448: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Caffery) to the Secretary of State

top secret

3870. From Palmer and Utter. US-French talks on Itcol took place today with Couve de Murville, Bonneau, Leroy, Bérard and Burin1 for France and Palmer and Utter for US.

French presented same views on future of territories as previously communicated in Washington. Briefly summarized, these are: (1) Italian trusteeship for Somaliland and Eritrea, with provision for [Page 926] access to sea for Ethiopia in latter territory; and (2) Italian trusteeship for all of Libya. In all cases, trusteeship would be for indefinite period.

Most of discussion centered on Libya and we pointed out importance which we attach to British having strategic facilities in Cyrenaica. It soon developed that French not adamant in their views re Italian trusteeship for all Libya and that they will probably support British trusteeship for Cyrenaica. They stated that they shared our views regarding necessity of British retaining bases in Mediterranean. They added, however, that if it were decided to partition Libya, they would have to insist on retaining Fezzan. They appear determined, however, to support Italian trusteeship over Tripolitania for following reasons: (1) Fear of effect in Italy of loss of most important former colony; (2) fear that British control of Tripolitania would result in severe impairment of Anglo-Italian relations; and (3) desire to assure that Libya would develop as an Arab-European community tied to the “West like French North Africa, rather than as an Arab country oriented towards the East. We stressed our fears regarding repercussions in Cyrenaica and French North Africa of return of Italians to Tripolitania with consequent bloodshed and general unrest. French admit that this is definite possibility but do not feel that effects might be as far reaching as British and US believe. In any event, they feel long-term effects in their own territories will be less if Italians in control Tripolitania than a British administration which would increase pace toward independence. French figure that with between one and two divisions Italy would not experience any difficulty in reestablishing itself in Tripolitania, provided British made every effort to effect transfer as smoothly as possible. They think only “a small handful” would be required in Somaliland and Eritrea. We felt that although British estimates may reflect pessimism, French estimates seemed over-optimistic and that even in East African territories Italians might well find considerable unrest.

French also raised question of US base at Mellaha. We informed them that we are vitally interested in maintaining facilities there through some kind of arrangement. French indicated that they appreciated importance which we attach to this base and that they are anxious for us to remain there.

At end of meeting, French asked us for our views on Fezzan. We stated we were still studying this question and that since we had never heard formal French views, they would be helpful to us in our consideration of problem. French repeated former statement that if British [Page 927] got Cyrenaica, they would insist on retaining Fezzan. When pressed as to positive advantage of Fezzan to France, they cited its importance with regard to air communications with Madagascar and as a focal point for caravan routes leading into French West and Equatorial Africa. Retention of Fezzan would facilitate control of smuggling activities into those territories. They stated there was no evidence of oil in territory and that reports to contrary had originated with a geologist who had never been there.

On question of Eritrea, French would be willing cede Danakil to Ethiopia, probably drawing line at Gulf of Zula. They had also considered possibility of ceding part of Coptic Highlands to Ethiopia but had given that idea up because of difficulty of drawing a practical new boundary. We presented our alternatives on Eritrea and emphasized we had not yet made up our minds. French presented no valid arguments in refutation of Ethiopian case and made it apparent their sponsorship of Italian trusteeship was solely to gain good will in Italy.

First session joint US-UK-French talks will be twenty-sixth. Sent Department 3870, repeated London 697. [Palmer and Utter.]

  1. Maurice Couve de Murville, Director-General of Political Affairs, French Foreign Ministry; Gabril Bonneau, Director, Division of African and Levant Affairs; Jean Leroy, Second Counselor, French Embassy in London, Albert Joseph André Bérard, Administrator, French Foreign Ministry; Etienne Burin des Roziers, Head of the French Delegation on the Field Investigation Commission.