The Secretary of State to the British Ambassador ( Franks )


Note Verbale

The Secretary of State presents his compliments to the Ambassador of Great Britain1 and has the honor to refer to the observations of the British Government upon the Trieste situation, presented in an Aide-Mémoire of January 18,2 which have been given serious consideration by the United States Government.

[Page 1312]

The United States Government shares, of course, the conviction that it would be in the general interest of peace and security if a lasting solution for the Trieste problem could be formulated and implemented. It is also recognized that the present situation may offer a unique opportunity to reach such a solution and that this opportunity would very possibly disappear if there were to be a change in the Yugoslav regime. The United States Government, however, is also conscious of the many difficulties which stand in the way of a final settlement of the Trieste problem and is inclined to approach any concrete moves with considerable deliberation. Despite the possible sources of conflict inherent in the continued existence of the Free Territory, great care must be exercised, lest in the search for a permanent settlement new frictions and animosities are generated which revive certain difficulties now dormant.

The British and United States Governments, it is believed, are in accord in the conviction that any lasting solution of the Trieste situation must be one which is acceptable to the two most interested parties, namely Italy and Yugoslavia. As Powers responsible for the administration of part of the Free Territory, the United Kingdom and the United States are, of course, vitally interested in any solution.

Since the receipt of the Aide-Mémoire of January 18, delivered by the British Embassy in Washington, it appears that the Yugoslav Government has approached the Italian Government to discuss a settlement of the Trieste problem.3 It seems questionable whether this Yugoslav overture will lead to any concrete discussions in view of recent uncompromising statements by Yugoslav officials4 both in public and in conversation with American representatives in Belgrade. These statements may not in fact mean that the Yugoslav Government intends to abandon completely its efforts to undertake discussions with the Italians. Nevertheless it is clear that the Italian Government is not prepared to take any initiative at this time, or even to discuss it with the Yugoslavs in the absence of some indication of a more reasonable attitude.

It was earlier suggested to the Italians, before this unfavorable turn in events, that they consider the Yugoslav overture very carefully [Page 1313] and weigh the unfavorable consequences which might arise from declining to discuss the Trieste situation further with the Yugoslavs. As a means of keeping the discussions going without committing the Italians in advance to any particular solution the Department of State suggested at that time that the Italian Government might consider asking the Yugoslavs for a concrete proposal. Unfortunately it is the understanding of the United States Government that the Italian Government feels unwilling now, as noted above, to take such action at this time and intends to make no further response to the tentative Yugoslav approaches.

The United States Government feels that it would be unwise for any outside party to inject itself into this situation at this time beyond taking any appropriate opportunity to remind both parties of the advantages of a settlement, which should take ethnic factors into account, and the necessity for both sides to make substantial concessions from the positions they have publicly adopted if a settlement is to be reached.

There are two questions which require careful consideration at this time regardless of the progress of any possible talks between Italy and Yugoslavia. The first of these has to do with the response which would be made by the Governments of the United Kingdom, France and the United States should the Soviet Union unexpectedly agree to the proposal made by those three Governments on March 20, 1948. The second deals with the implementation of any agreement which the Italians and Yugoslavs might reach on the disposition of the Free Territory of Trieste, assuming the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States found this agreement acceptable. This includes the question of the withdrawal or maintenance in the Free Territory of British and American troops. As the British Government is aware, representatives of the two Governments have already taken up these questions in informal, exploratory talks in Washington.

The Department of State has prepared tentative suggestions on the first of these two points as a basis for further discussion; these are presented below. The Department of State is studying the second question and hopes to put some tentative suggestions before the British Government in the near future. Meanwhile any observations or suggestions which the British Government might wish to make would be welcomed.

Should the Soviet Union in whatever manner indicate its agreement to the return to Italy of the Free Territory of Trieste, on the basis of the March 20 tripartite proposal or on some other grounds, the United States Government suggests that the United Kingdom and French Governments join it in a prompt expression of satisfaction [Page 1314] that the Russians are at last ready to support a stable solution to this perplexing problem along the lines which the Three Powers have advocated for some time. The Three Powers would add that the Trieste problem should, of course, be settled in a manner acceptable to the two states most directly interested, namely Italy and Yugoslavia, if the settlement is to be a permanent and stable one.

If circumstances should permit at that time the Three Powers could add, following consultation with the Italian and Yugoslav Governments, that those two Governments are in fact currently seeking a mutually agreeable settlement of the Trieste problem against the background of the tripartite proposal, envisaging adjustments where necessary in the interests of finding a permanent and stable solution. Whatever arrangements are worked out by Italy and Yugoslavia could be given formal recognition by the Four Powers, as well as the other powers which originally participated in the establishment of the present Italo-Yugoslav boundary arrangements, through the conclusion of a new agreement.

The United States Government feels that the foregoing course of action would involve a minimum of embarrassment to the Italian and Yugoslav Governments. Moreover, the Soviet Union, if this line is followed, would be more likely to have to acquiesce in any bilateral arrangements worked out by Italy and Yugoslavia. It is felt that any other course that is open to the Three Powers, should the Soviet Union take the action envisaged above, would arouse the inflexible resistance of the Yugoslavs to any compromise solution and might well lead to the incorporation of Zone B in Yugoslavia.

  1. A notation in the margin of the first page reads “Handed to British by Mr. Thompson, March 17, 1950.”
  2. Ante, p. 1302.
  3. Mario Luciolli, Counselor of the Italian Embassy, had reported this approach to Llewellyn E. Thompson, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, in a conversation at Washington on February 14, 1950. This report is covered in a memorandum of conversation by Mr. Thompson; not printed (750G.00/2–1450).
  4. These were reported in Belgrade’s telegram 264 to the Secretary of State (750G.00/3–150), in Belgrade’s telegram 279 of March 3 to the Secretary of State (750G.00/3–350), and in Belgrade’s telegram 37 of March 4 to the Embassy in the United Kingdom (750G.00/3–450); none printed.