IO Files: US/A/C.1/802

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. John Foster Dulles of the United States Delegation to the U.N. General Assembly


Participants: Count Carlo Sforza, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr. John Foster Dulles, U.S. Delegation

Also Present: Sr. Alberto Tarchiani, Italian Ambassador at Washington
Sr. Gastone Guidotti, Director General, Italian Foreign Office
Mr. William B. Sale, U.S. Delegation

At his request I called on Count Sforza at his apartments at the Waldorf-Astoria for the purpose of having a direct exchange of views with respect to the Italian Colonies question.

Count Sforza began the conversation by alluding to the paradoxical position in which he now finds himself in view of his ardent opposition, throughout his long career, to the entire concept of colonies. He explained, however, that what he and the Italian Government are really advocating now is not the re-establishment of Italian administration under the old colonial system but an opportunity for Italy to share in the European task of developing Africa for the mutual benefit of the two continents. He felt that it was essential that Italy be [Page 547] an administering authority on the continent of Africa in order to ensure a place for Italy in the planning and direction of this task. He pointed out that Italy’s claims are in reality extremely modest; she has raised no objection to, and in fact would welcome, British administration of Cyrenaica. He fully appreciated the strategic importance to the security of all western Europe of the development of strong British bases in Cyrenaica and, for this reason, he would raise no objection whatsoever to British trusteeship. He pointed out also that the Italians would not object to a continuation of French administration of Fezzan. With respect to Tripolitania, Count Sforza said that the Italian position asking for an Italian trusteeship was well-known. He stressed his own belief that Italian administration could be re-established with an absolute minimum of disorder and that the Italian Government had at its disposal all of the forces which might be necessary to maintain order in the territory. He expressed the personal view that the fewer the troops that would be sent, the less would be the need for their use. However, the British had recommended a large force which the Italian Government was prepared to send. Count Sforza dwelt at some length on the peaceful relationship between the Italians and natives in this area. He admitted that there had been difficulties in the past with the natives in Cyrenaica but maintained that there had never been serious difficulties between the Italian authorities and population and the inhabitants of Tripolitania. As evidence of the good relations existing between the Italians and Tripolitanians Count Sforza referred to the results of recent elections in Tripoli and other Tripolitanian cities in which the Italians and pro-Italian Arabs have won large majorities.

With respect to Eritrea, Count Sforza said that he believed that the great majority of the inhabitants would much prefer a form of trusteeship which would assure them eventual independence and that there would be amongst the inhabitants in the territory strong opposition to being placed under the rule of the Ethiopians. He suggested that the Ethiopians could be given adequate assurance with respect to their security if a joint trusteeship consisting of Ethiopia and Italy and other members of the European Union were to be named as the administering authority. Such a solution should give the Ethiopians an adequate, positive guarantee that there could never again be any question of aggression against them being launched from Eritrea. He said that the Italians found it incredible to believe that the General Assembly would recommend that the two Italian, European cities of Asmara and Massawa be placed under the comparatively very backward rule of Ethiopia.

[Page 548]

At this point Count Sforza suggested the possibility that, if our principal reason for advocating the cession of Eritrea to Ethiopia was to avoid the re-establishment of an Italian “pinchers” around Ethiopia, it might be more desirable from the Italian point of view if Italian Somaliland were to be ceded to Ethiopia if, by such a concession, it would be possible to restore Eritrea to Italy under Italian trusteeship. Count Sforza pointed out that while as Foreign Minister he had full powers, such a proposal would require the approval of the Italian cabinet should it be found possible to give serious consideration to it.

Count Sforza then undertook to explain at some length the most unfortunate reaction which would result in Italy should the General Assembly recommend an unjust solution of the Italian Colonies problem. Should the solution agreed upon be such as to seem to treat Italy in a punitive manner in line with the very unjust Italian Peace Treaty he could not foresee what far-reaching reaction might result in Italy. As for himself, he said, it would be simple for he would resign. The Italian people would never be able to understand, particularly against the background of the brilliant recent history of western cooperation under OEEC,1 the Atlantic Pact, the Customs Union between Italy and France, and the forthcoming signature of an instrument for the creation of the Council of Europe, they could never reconcile with this new spirit of cooperation, what they could only interpret as a sign of a lack of faith and support and friendship on the part of the western powers, and in particular the United States. Count Sforza said that he had no desire or intention to suggest the use of blackmail in any form, but that he felt he must point out that if what the Italian people considered to be only their just rights are disregarded in the settlement of the Colonies question, it is quite possible that the Italian public and parliamentary support for continued close cooperation with the western powers, and support for the Atlantic Pact itself, would become dubious to say the least. Count Sforza expressed the personal opinion that such a development would have its direct reaction also in France, where this question is viewed in almost identical terms as in Italy. He felt that the adverse reaction might be so grave as to seriously retard the growing integration of western Europe.

I then presented our point of view at some length to Count Sforza along the same lines on which I had spoken yesterday to Foreign Minister Schuman. I pointed out to him that since the very close and interdependent relationship between Eastern and Western Europe has been so effectively cut by East-West tensions and since Asiatic colonies have largely become independent, it is becoming increasingly important [Page 549] that cooperation and mutual assistance between western Europe and Africa should be encouraged and developed in every possible way. This new relationship between Africa and Europe can be developed only in an atmosphere of mutual respect and consideration. It should be possible for Africa to be developed in such a way as to take the place of Eastern Europe which may very well be cut off from Western Europe for many years to come. Within the framework of this concept the question of the disposition of the former Italian Colonies assumes a greater importance. I explained to Count Sforza that the United States Government attaches much importance to the relationship between the non-Africans and the native population. For this reason we must give every consideration to the desires and needs of the native population and avoid imposing upon them, in cases where we have a proper voice in preventing it, a system or administration which they would oppose.

I pointed out that from information which is available to us from our officials in the area, and more importantly on the basis of the views and estimates of the British authorities now in actual charge of the administration, we have reason to believe that it would not be possible for the Italians to resume the administration of Tripolitania under existing conditions without grave danger of opposition and resistance on the part of the native population. I mentioned to Count Sforza that, as he is aware, the British Government is not willing to take the responsibility for using British troops to impose by force the installation of an Italian administration upon the natives of Tripolitania. We of course understand the British position in this respect, particularly in the light of their experience in Palestine.2 The United States Government itself could not recommend a solution in Tripolitania which we would have reason to believe might result in bloodshed and stir up in North Africa a holy war of Moslems against Christians, or a war of blacks against whites, or the creation of a situation comparable to that which existed in Indonesia. I added that it was altogether wrong to interpret our position with respect to this question as being less than friendly as far as the Italian Government and people are concerned. I referred, as a comparable situation, to the fact that the American Government and the American people have the very highest regard and friendship for the Netherlands and yet we find ourselves at the present time in opposition to the Netherlands policy in Indonesia. We have had to cut off Marshall Plan assistance to Indonesia and there is very considerable pressure to stop further aid to the Netherlands itself on the ground that that aid is at least indirectly [Page 550] assisting the Netherlands Government in the pursuit of what we consider to be an unjust policy in Indonesia.3

I assured Count Sforza that the United States Government has given and continues to give every possible consideration to the desires and aspirations of the Italians with respect to the Colonies question. I expressed the hope that he and the Italian people would appreciate that our inability to support the Italian claims in their entirety in no way indicated a lessening of our friendship and support for the present Italian Government. I agreed that it would be most unfortunate if our position should be interpreted otherwise in Italy.

I then inquired of Count Sforza whether he had given any consideration to the possibility of a solution for Tripolitania which would provide for a continuation of the present British administration for a limited period of years. During this time the British authorities might undertake by positive measures to endeavor to establish an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual trust and respect between the Italians in Tripolitania and the native population. I pointed out that such a proposal would of course require the agreement of the British and that we did not know just how far they would be willing or able to go in this respect. I explained that after such a period, during which Italian administrators and technicians might be integrated into the governmental administration, it might well be possible, under much more favorable circumstances, to consider the possibility of the establishment of an Italian trusteeship over the territory. Count Sforza stressed the view that in the opinion of the Italian Government the solution for Libya which would give Cyrenaica to the British, and possibly the Fezzan to the French, must simultaneously provide definitely for Italian trusteeship of Tripolitania if there were to be any possibility at all of acceptance by the Italian people. (Count Sforza did not indicate specifically whether he believed it worthwhile to give serious consideration to this suggestion. I have, however, the impression that it may provide a basis at least for further discussion.)

In closing Count Sforza referred to a telegram which he had received from Prime Minister DeGasperi informing him of an interview which he had had with Ambassador Dunn and which had been reported to us in Rome’s 1044 of April 11.4 In this interview Mr. DeGasperi had expressed the opinion that a policy on the Colony question which demonstrated a lack of confidence in the Italian Government would make Italy’s participation in the Atlantic Pact and Italy’s rearmament futile. DeGasperi had further said that his government cannot [Page 551] continue to carry on effectively its battle against communism if it also has to face distrust on the part of democratic nations.

Count Sforza said that his reaction to this statement by Prime Minister DeGasperi was two-fold. In the first place he, Count Sforza, felt that of course on the basis of actual facts, and when viewed rationally, the contention that a lack of complete support on the Colonies question would indicate a lack of support for Italy is absurd. However, giving proper consideration to the psychological and emotional factors involved, and he stressed that these factors should not be underestimated when dealing with Italy, he believed that Prime Minister DeGasperi’s statement was absolutely correct.

On the question of future procedure, Count Sforza and Ambassador Tarchiani suggested it might be best if Committee I took up Libya first.

On leaving we both agreed that this exchange of views had been most helpful and further that we should have further talks in the near future.

John Foster Dulles
  1. For documentation on the OEEC and related subjects, see pp. 367 ff.
  2. Documentation with respect to Palestine is scheduled for publication in volume vi.
  3. For documentation on U.S. policy with regard to Indonesia, see volume vii.
  4. Not printed.