Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary for European Affairs (Perkins)


Participants: Dr. Aleš Bebler, Deputy Foreign Minister of Yugoslavia
Mr. Perkins
Mr. Greene, WE1

Mr. Bebler called on me at my residence by appointment.2 In his preliminary remarks he referred generally to the state of Yugoslav-Soviet relations, and said that the Yugoslav Government and people are faced with tremendous pressure from the East. Although in the first month after the Yugoslav break with the Cominform, Cominform propaganda pressure had been extremely serious to the Yugoslav Government, in terms of its effect on the Yugoslav people, the telling pressure today is economic and military. In fact, he observed, in the struggle with the Cominform the Yugoslav Government’s most powerful ally is Yugoslav public opinion; parenthetically he observed that since the split “we have lost a little on the left and gained on the right”. It would be disastrous if there were any break in the support of Yugoslav public opinion for the Government.

In this situation, Mr. Bebler continued, the Yugoslav Government considers pressure from the West a “luxury”. For example, it has been reported that 20 Slovene schools in Zone A of the FTT have recently been closed; this has been extremely disturbing to Slovene opinion in Yugoslavia. He opined that the Italians are bent on Italianization of Zone A of the Free Territory, and observed that there are no Slovene schools in Gorizia.

Mr. Greene observed that Allied Military Government in Zone A is aware of the importance of tranquilizing relations between Italian and Slovene peoples in the area; Mr. Bebler rejoined that AMG is [Page 523] pro-Italian. I said that we would investigate the facts of the reported closing of schools in Zone A.

Mr. Bebler then moved on to a discussion of the status of the Free Territory and its future disposition. He asked, and during the ensuing discussion reiterated the request, that the U.S. Government approach the Italian Government, urging the latter to accept a compromise solution. He felt that so long as the Italian Government believes they have the support of the U.S. Government on the proposal made by the three Western powers on March 20, 1948, they will not budge from claiming return of the entire Free Territory to Italy. This, of course, is wholly unacceptable to the Yugoslav people and thus to the Yugoslav Government. In response to my question, Mr. Bebler said that his Government’s representatives have not approached the Italians to seek a compromise and are indeed reluctant to do so unless the U.S. Government approaches them first in the sense suggested.

I told Mr. Bebler that we are committed to the March 20 proposal and that we would have great difficulty in adopting his suggestion. I further observed that if the Italian and Yugoslav governments work out a mutually acceptable agreement on the subject, we will consider it, together with the other parties to the Italian Peace Treaty.

I inquired whether he had any suggestions as to the nature of an agreement which might be acceptable to the Yugoslav people and Government. With a certain amount of circumlocution, he indicated that, the March 20 proposal being completely out of the question, Yugoslavia would have to gain sovereignty over the areas inhabited by Yugoslav peoples. He acknowledged that the city of Trieste is Italian, and that the coastal settlements also are in large part inhabited by Italians. He then recalled the “Tito-Togliatti3 formula”, to which he said Nenni4 had also agreed and which, he recalled, would have provided for the return of Trieste to Italy in exchange for corrections of the Italo-Yugoslav boundary in Yugoslavia’s favor, especially around Gorizia. He observed that the fact that Togliatti and Nenni agreed to such a formula indicated that the Italian people would agree to it.

In response to my inquiry, Mr. Bebler said that he thought that the Soviet Union would not attempt to block implementation of an Italo-Yugoslav agreement if one were reached, among other reasons because it would ruin Togliatti’s position in Italy if the Soviet Union were to block return of Trieste to Italy.

After further discussion of the prospects for Italo-Yugoslav agreement, it was observed that at the moment the question boils down to [Page 524] whether the Italians want a settlement of the Trieste question. Mr. Bebler was as unwilling to agree with my suggestion that Yugoslavia should approach the Italians directly, as I was unwilling to agree with his suggestion that we approach them first.

Finally, Mr. Bebler said that he thought that our respective positions were clear, and asked if we would at least think about his suggestion for a U.S. approach to Italy. I told him that we would think about it.5

George W. Perkins
  1. In the autumn of 1949 the Office of Western European Affairs (WE) under the Director, Theodore C. Achilles, took over the functions formerly performed by the Divisions WE and SWE.
  2. In a briefing memorandum of November 17 to Mr. Perkins, not printed, Mr. Achilles stated that Dr. Bebler had indicated a wish to talk to someone in the Department of State about Trieste and that it was understood that Mr. Perkins had indicated a willingness to meet him in New York. It was recommended that every effort be made to keep the meeting secret, and the anonymity of New York appeared preferable over Lake Success (860S.00/11–1749).
  3. Palmiro Togliatti, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Italy.
  4. Pietro Nenni, Secretary of the Italian Socialist Party.
  5. In telegram 754 to Belgrade, November 29, repeated to Rome as 3054, not printed, the conversation was summarized, and it was suggested that the Italians might be informed of it “without comment on our part” (860S.00/11–2949).