Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Rusk)1

top secret

Participants: Mr. Meade, Counselor, British Embassy
Mr. Tebbit, Second Secretary British Embassy
Mr. Rusk, G
Mr. Moose, AF
Mr. Dowling, SWE

I explained to Mr. Meade that in response to the recent British request we had been reviewing the problem of the disposition of the former Italian colonies, and that we thought an exchange of preliminary views at this stage might be mutually helpful although we were not yet in a position to give the Foreign Office our final views on all of the areas involved.

As regards Somaliland and Eritrea, I said we assumed there would be no change in the recent position of either the US or UK, unless the British Government wished to bring forward some new suggestion for the western province of Eritrea. The question before us was therefore that of the disposition of Libya. We had already agreed to support British trusteeship for Cyrenaica, or an alternative which would meet British requirements in that area. The UK had recently proposed US trusteeship for Tripolitania. This seemed to us to be inacceptable because of our declarations against American territorial expansion as a result of the war, because of the impact it would have upon US-Italian [Page 533] relations, and because of the unfortunate impression it might make upon other friendly and neutral powers. I pointed out that the USSR would criticize both of us, regardless of the disposition made of Libya, but that Communist propaganda would undoubtedly be especially strident if the US were to “penetrate” the Mediterranean in this way.

I reminded Meade also that the commitment which the US would assume in the proposed North Atlantic Pact would be a radical departure from traditional American policy, and a commitment to administer a Mediterranean area would be a further and perhaps too great a change at this time.

Other alternatives for Tripolitania, including immediate independence or Italian trusteeship, were not desirable for reasons which we all know. There was another possibility, which arose primarily out of the fact that British forces were already occupying the area and that British administration had always been acceptable to us. This possibility was a multilateral trusteeship with British administration in both Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, and with France continuing to administer the Fezzan. We had thought that the April session of the General Assembly might approve in principle a trusteeship for Libya exercised by the US, UK, France, Italy and Egypt, at the same time requesting these five powers to work out a trusteeship agreement for submission to the Trusteeship Council in September. While the GA resolution need not mention British administration of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, or French administration of the Fezzan, our ideas on this subject would undoubtedly be known to the GA delegations. We would, however, have several months in which detailed arrangements could be worked out satisfactorily, including the financial requirements of the area, in which the US would assist as one of the five trustees.

While this multilateral plan represented only State Department thinking, and had not yet been discussed with other government Departments or Congress, we believed it might be possible to demonstrate that US participation would be advantageous. Aside from military strategic considerations, it would, for example, provide a basis for inclusion of the US in any eventual development of Africa without furnishing at the same time reasons for including the USSR.

Meade said he would of course submit our suggestion to London, adding that he would have liked to be able to tell them something more definite about US assistance on the trust area budget, but that he understood we could not make any specific statement on this point at present.

He added that although he should perhaps not speculate on the reaction of the Foreign Office, he feared they would not be enthusiastic [Page 534] about the suggestion. After presenting again the British arguments for US trusteeship, he recalled that the UK had never favored multilateral trusteeships, and reminded me that our suggestion of UK trusteeship for Tripolitania had been consistently turned down, one reason being its repercussions on Anglo-Italian relations. Meade went on to say that he felt certain our suggestion would not satisfy Italy or France, and that this factor might influence the attitude of the Latin American states. He wondered therefore if there might not be a possibility of Italian administration for Tripolitania under our proposal for multilateral trusteeship. I replied that this might present a possibility which, under our suggested procedure, could be studied during the April to September interim, when we could consult the Tripolitanians further about it.

In conclusion, there was a brief discussion of the possibility, which Meade seemed not to like, that the present British occupation might be continued for a period of years without formal action on trusteeship by the General Assembly, and Meade promised to give us the Foreign Office’s views on our suggestion as promptly as possible.

Dean Rusk
  1. Drafted by Walter C. Dowling.