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


Participants: The Italian Ambassador
Assistant Secretary Rusk
Mr. Sale, SWE

Ambassador Tarchiani had requested an appointment for the purpose of making a courtesy call and also to discuss the question of the disposition of the former Italian Colonies. The Ambassador stated that his Government was most anxious that every effort be made to achieve, before the opening of the next session of the General Assembly, a compromise position on the question of the disposition of the colonies which could be supported by Italy as well as the United States, United Kingdom, and France, and which could be presented to the Assembly as the agreed position of the four powers.

Mr. Tarchiani reviewed the Italian position with respect to the colonies. He said that Italy would of course accept trusteeship over Somaliland, and observed that it appeared that such a proposal would have general support in the Assembly.

With respect to Eritrea, he stated that Italy recognized that Ethiopia had a justifiable claim to the outlet to the sea and that Italy had on numerous occasions expressed its complete willingness to the cession of the port of Assab and a portion of southern Eritrea to Ethiopia for that purpose. He said that Italy appreciated that Ethiopia might fear that the reestablishment of Italian administration in Eritrea could provide the opportunity for renewed aggression. For this reason Italy had suggested that a multilateral trusteeship for Eritrea, with Italian administration, would provide more than adequate assurances for the Ethiopians. The Ambassador suggested that besides Italy, France and the United Kingdom might participate in such a multilateral trusteeship. He observed that such a solution would not only satisfy justifiable aspirations on the part of Ethiopia, but would also assure the continued advancement of the territory toward eventual self-government under Italian tutelage. The Ambassador expressed the opinion that the great numbers of the indigenous Eritreans who are Moslems, as well as the Italian settlers in the territory, would be most resentful at being placed under the rule of the comparatively backward Ethiopians. He pointed out that there could be no question of “returning Eritrea to Ethiopia” since most of [Page 540] Eritrea had never been under the rule of Ethiopia and that both racially and culturally the area was more closely akin to the Arab peoples across the Red Sea.

Ambassador Tarchiani said that Italy recognized the paramount strategic needs of Great Britain in the Eastern Mediterranean and viewed with sympathy the British desire for trusteeship over Cyrenaica for that reason. As the Italian Government had assured us and the British on numerous occasions, Italy would not press its own claims to a trusteeship over Cyrenaica provided at the same time that Tripolitania was placed under Italian trusteeship. He further stated that Italy did not object to France’s remaining as administrator in the Fezzan should an acceptable disposition be agreed upon for Tripolitania. He stated that Italians have made great contributions to the advancement of Tripolitania and have in the past maintained excellent relations with the native population. He felt certain that should provisions be worked out for an orderly transfer of administration, Italian authorities would have no serious difficulties in taking over administration from the British.

With respect to the U.S. position, I assured Ambassador Tarchiani that we continued to favor Italian trusteeship in Italian Somaliland. I added that we would support such a position before the General Assembly.

With respect to Eritrea, I reminded the Ambassador that we had made our position on this question clear in Paris last Fall, and that we continued to believe that the cession of all of Eritrea, with the exception of the western province, was a solution which would best meet the interests of all of the inhabitants. It was pointed out to him that the final decision would of course lie with the General Assembly and that the necessary two-thirds majority would require the support of the Near Eastern and the Far Eastern members, as well as others, and that a resolution acceptable to such a wide group would certainly have to be based on the best interests of all concerned.

I explained to Ambassador Tarchiani that our overall ultimate objective with respect to Libya was independence for the territory, not in the distant future, but at a very early date. We realize that the people of Libya are not yet far enough advanced for immediate independence and that they will require a limited period of tutelage. It was pointed out that the British have an outstanding record of taking up the responsibility for assisting backward peoples toward independence, and, when they have achieved an adequate stage of development, establishing them as independent states. For this reason we have supported British trusteeship for Cyrenaica. I added that up until now at least the British have felt that they would not be able to [Page 541] accept similar responsibility as well for the administration of Tripolitania. I explained also that we feel that there might be serious reasons why it would be difficult for us to assume the administration of Tripolitania ourselves. It was explained to the Ambassador that we have had serious doubts as to the possibility of the reestablishment of Italian administration in Tripolitania without the outbreak of open hostility on the part of the natives. I added that we were not prepared to agree to a solution which might result in consequences comparable to the most regrettable hostilities in Palestine.

I further pointed out to Mr. Tarchiani that we have received no information which would indicate that the natives desired a return to Italian administration.

With respect to the alleged Arab opposition to the return of the Italians to Tripolitania, Ambassador Tarchiani expressed the opinion that should the native populations of any of the areas of North Africa be consulted, it would almost certainly develop that the natives would be against French administration in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunis, and British administration in Cyrenaica, for it is well-known that all of the Arab people aspire to immediate independence and an end to any form of control by Europeans. He said that in the past Tripolitania, under Italian administration, has been one of the most tranquil areas of North Africa, that Italians in Tripolitania even today are on the friendliest of terms with the natives. This fact can be proven by recent elections in Tripoli and other Tripolitanian towns in which numerous Italians and definitely pro-Italian natives have been elected to office. Before the Fascist administration, Italy had taken the lead in establishing democratic institutions in her colonies and had provided education for the natives which had enabled them to make great strides toward self-government. It is the Italians’ desire now to continue this work of tutelage until the people of Tripolitania are ready for independence. The Ambassador said that Italy had proposed to the British that Tripolitania might be established immediately as an independent state with special treaty ties with Italy which would provide an opportunity for Italian protection and assistance in the development of the territory. The British had not looked with favor upon this suggestion for the reason that it would affect their position in Cyrenaica where they were not prepared to grant independence to Cyrenaica at this time. I told the Ambassador that we were inclined to favor a solution which would provide for independence for all of Libya within ten years. He agreed that it was desirable to prepare the territory for independence as soon as practicable but expressed doubt that this could be achieved in such a short period as ten years. He suggested rather that an arrangement might be worked out whereby [Page 542] independence might be established as soon as some such competent body as the General Assembly or the Trusteeship Council might determine.

Ambassador Tarchiani made the point that Italy’s interest in participating in the administration of her former African colonies is but one aspect of her larger interest in participating in the general advancement of the underdeveloped areas of the African continent. He expressed the opinion that Italians, through their scientific skills developed through many years of colonial administration in Africa, and the natural adaptability of Italian colonists to climatic conditions in Africa, would enable the Italians to contribute greatly to the future development of Africa. The Italian Government felt that it was essential that Italy participate in the direct administration of at least an important part of her former Italian colonies if Italy and the Italian people were to be able to make the maximum contribution in the general development of Africa.

I assured the Ambassador that our Government was equally as anxious as the Italian Government to arrive at a solution of this important problem which will meet with the acceptance of as many parties as possible and at the same time provide a just and equitable settlement in the best interests of all of the inhabitants. I assured him that we would keep in touch with the Italian Embassy and make known our further views as soon as we have completed our review of the many aspects of the problem.

Dean Husk
  1. Drafted by William B. Sale.