501.BB/1–1749: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Holmes) to the Acting Secretary of State


207. Glutton,2 head African Department, asked Embassy officer to call January 15 and gave following summary Bevin-Schuman conversations re Italian colonies.3 He explained that Foreign Office is most anxious that UNGA should have at early date résumé talks and that later British Embassy Washington will give more comprehensive picture to Department (see paragraph 13).

Begin summary.

Bevin and Schuman noted that UK and France are in agreement re Cyrenaica, Fezzan and Italian Somaliland and that two are not in agreement re Tripolitania and Eritrea. Present afforded opportunity for better understanding re last two.
Tripolitania. Schuman said that one of UK objections to Italian return to Tripolitania has always been that Italy could not get back without using military force. Schuman’s own impression from talks with Count Sforza4 was that Italians had sufficient force to get back and this impression was confirmed by De Gasperi’s5 recognition that Italians might have to return in stages: i.e. first colonies, second administration and lastly troops. Schuman outlined reasons why French Government felt Italians should return, first being that France is naturally greatly interested in territory neighboring Tunisia and believes that Italians in Tripolitania would be stable neighbors. Schuman’s second reason was that integration western Europe is highly necessary and to deny Italians Tripolitania would be setback to western European developments and not consonant with Western Union ideas already so far advanced. Schuman’s third point was that from his talks with Sforza he was convinced that if Italians did not get Tripolitania Italian Government would fall. In any case, Sforza would resign because latter told him he would do so.
Schuman said he had obtained impression at Cannes that Sforza was speaking personally re Tripolitania and not necessarily expressing view Italian Government. Schuman thought, therefore, that Italian Government should be asked for further information as to nature of its minimum requirements Tripolitania and whether it possesses strength to go back. He thought USG should be asked to reconsider its decision favoring postponement.
Bevin replied he could see force Schuman’s arguments. To be denied Tripolitania would obviously not be palatable to Italians and denial would have some effect on position of government. Bevin personally had no objections returning Tripolitania to Italy and never had but there were real doubts regarding Italian capacity to go back. Before agreeing to decision that Italians should return UK would want to know: (a) whether Italians capable returning and; (b) Italian intentions in Tripolitania regarding such matters as constitutional developments, entry by stages, et cetera. In any case there was no certainty that two-thirds majority would be obtained in UNGA for Italian return.
Bevin said that speaking entirely personally UK policy as agreed with US is to favor postponement: he was not prepared to tell Schuman that he agreed with Schuman’s view, that US should be asked to reconsider, or that approach should be made to Italian Government. He was, however, willing to inquire of USG whether it had altered its views and to make known to USG what Schmuan had said, pointing out that there was some force in Schuman’s arguments, viz., that other considerations would have to be borne in mind. Bevin said he would then ask for US comments.
Bevin remarked that postponement is obviously not ideal decision since it leaves the way open for agitation in Italy which is constant sore to Anglo-Italian relations. Bevin said it was of course quite open to French Ambassador in Washington to put French views to USG. Conversations regarding Tripolitania ended.
Eritrea. Schuman said he had told Sforza definitely at Cannes that Italians must realize that it is impossible that if they get Italian Somaliland for them to hope to obtain southern part of Eritrea thus again putting Ethiopia in pinchers. He also told Sforza that he felt that Ethiopia had a legitimate right to access to sea. He obtained impression from Sforza that if Massawa and Asmara were not given to Ethiopia Italians did not care what happened to remainder Eritrea but these two towns, with 30,000 Italian inhabitants, were Italian creations.
Schuman told Bevin that in his view both claimants have “negative desires”, i.e., Italians do not want Ethiopians to have territory and Ethiopians do not want Italians to have territory. French Government taking broad view recognize this geographical, historical, political and economic importance of Massawa and Asmara. In these circumstances was not collective trusteeship right solution? Ethiopia and Italy might be associated with such collective trusteeship.
Bevin replied Eritrea very difficult problem. Could not see how Massawa and Asmara could be cut off from remainder territory. If Coptic Highland to which Ethiopia has strong ethnic claims were given Ethiopia nothing of any economic value would be left; therefore [Page 528] he thought it was not possible to divide territory. UK also had to take broad view and had to bear in mind effect any alteration of UK policy regarding Eritrea on India, Ceylon, et cetera, and upon colored races generally. There was also UK’s own position in Africa to be borne in mind and public opinion in UK which is strongly pro-Ethiopian.
Then Bevin said that in these circumstances he had to tell Schuman he stood firmly on proposals agreed with us, especially since these proposals contained provisions designed to protect Italian community. Bevin said he was also of opinion that Italians would be well advised to abandon all claims to Eritrea because if Italians did so Bevin believed Ethiopia would welcome their cooperation in economic development of both Eritrea and Ethiopia: what Ethiopia feared was Italian political control.
Schuman finally asked if Bevin would consider postponement decision regarding Massawa and Asmara alone, leaving these two cities under present British administration.
Bevin replied he would consider anything Schuman asked him to consider but that his reply as above was only possible answer in circumstances.

End summary.

13. Clutton commented that Department would observe that Bevin held US–UK line firmly. Reference paragraph 5 Glutton said that British Embassy Washington would seek to re-examine with Department in light recent developments premises on which US–UK line was agreed earlier. British Embassy would also convey to Department views Blackley6 and Penney7 as well as Counselor British Embassy Rome, all three of whom were called London recently for consultation (Tripoli’s 4, January 10 to Department8). Clutton remarked that present UK evaluation is that Italian Government would not fall as suggested by Schuman paragraph two above and said it was on such points as this that Foreign Office thought thorough exchange views with Department desirable.

Sent Department 207, repeated Paris 45, Rome 9.

  1. George L. Clutton, of the British Foreign Office.
  2. These conversations were held at London, January 13 and 14, 1949, between Ernest Bevin, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and Robert Schuman, French Minister of Foreign Affairs.
  3. Count Carlo Sforza, Italian Foreign Minister.
  4. Alcide De Gasperi, Italian Prime Minister.
  5. Travers Robert Blackley, British Chief Administrator in Tripolitania.
  6. José Campbell Penney, Political Adviser to the British Administrations in the former Italian colonies.
  7. Not printed.