The French Embassy to the Department of State

Translation secret


By an aide-mémoire dated August 9 last,1 the Department of State was so good as to transmit to the French Embassy a study made by its legal services concerning the method of implementing an arrangement which might be concluded between Italy and Yugoslavia respecting Trieste.

This study was received with much interest by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs.2 He, for his part, is having the question studied by his legal adviser.

The Embassy has the honor to transmit herewith to the Department of State a note summarizing briefly the conclusions of the study which has been made at Paris.

It would be happy to learn the observations to which this document may give rise on the part of the American authorities.


The French Embassy to the Department of State


Subject: Possible Italo-Yugoslav Agreement on Trieste

As the study made by the Department of State points out, the possible conclusion of an Italo-Yugoslav agreement on Trieste would pose a very delicate legal problem. Such an agreement would constitute in effect a novation with respect to the treaty of peace with Italy. If this novation were accepted by all the signatories of the treaty of peace, no difficulties would arise. But it is almost certain that the U.S.S.R. would object thereto. Hence, one must ask oneself by what means this opposition could be neutralized.

In this connection two entirely different attitudes on the part of the three Western Powers may be envisaged:

Either they strive to secure a legal and moral basis for the agreement reached, which, at the beginning, would be lacking;

Or else, on the contrary, they will refrain from any mention of the legal aspect of the question, leaving to the new state of affairs created by the accord its character as a de facto situation.

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In the first alternative, it appears that an appeal to the General Assembly of the United Nations is in fact the only possible procedure. The U.S.S.R. which, it is assumed, would be hostile to the agreement contemplated, would not fail to veto the proposal in the Security Council. Aside from the fact that the appointment of a governor of the Free Territory of Trieste figures on the agenda of the Council, the appeal to the Assembly would present serious disadvantages. The moral authority of a decision taken by the majority of the Assembly would no doubt carry great weight. Its legal value would nevertheless be questionable. Indeed, if one were to invoke Article 12 of the Charter it would not be a question, under the circumstances, of the Assembly’s making recommendations, but of confirming purely and simply an important modification of the peace treaty. Would the appeal to the aforementioned Article 12 be justified under such conditions? It seems that on this point the U.S.S.R. could raise serious objections. On the other hand, no matter how large a majority might declare itself in favor of the Italo-Yugoslav agreement, it would nevertheless be true that the treaty of peace would be modified without the consent of all the signatories.

It is therefore to be feared that the intervention of the General Assembly would furnish the U.S.S.R. with valid pretexts for denouncing the illegal character of our action.

From another point of view, it is to be feared that the U.S.S.R., arguing from this “violation” of the peace treaty, would profit therefrom to free itself, if the occasion should arise, from certain obligations which hamper it. To be sure, it has not failed to interpret to its liking the peace treaties with the satellite countries. Would it not be inopportune, in this respect, to furnish ammunition for its propaganda? These considerations are all the more worthy of study because it would be a question, this time, of modifying territorial clauses of the peace treaty with Italy.

Besides these general objections, the suggestion of the Department of State calls forth two specific observations.

First of all, we do not see how the United States, Great Britain, and France could intervene as signatory powers of the declaration of March 20, when, in all probability, an Italo-Yugoslav agreement would deviate considerably from the terms of that declaration. If, then, the matter were to be laid before the United Nations, it would be preferable to leave it to Yugoslavia to make an appeal to the Secretary General of that organization.

Moreover, it appears difficult to have recourse to a plebiscite of the local populations. With respect to the zone which would be assigned to Yugoslavia, it would be strange, to say the least, to invoke, as [Page 1337] ratification of the agreement, a popular vote organized by a totalitarian country. If there were to be a plebiscite, it would be necessary that it be supervised by an international commission under the auspices of the United Nations. Would the Belgrade Government accept such supervision? It is improbable.

The other possible attitude, on the part of the Western Powers, would be to refrain from any mention of the legal aspect of the question, and even to reserve it formally. The end which we seek is, in fact, the settlement of an irritating quarrel which is poisoning Italo-Yugoslav relations. This objective would be attained by the agreement itself. Consequently, what is the good of furnishing an opportunity for a Soviet maneuver by trying to give that agreement an insecure legal basis? Would it not be infinitely preferable, while welcoming the new arrangement, and while acclaiming the intentions of which it is the realization, to declare at the same time that we could not acknowledge that it has a definitive legal value until all the signatories of the peace treaty had given their consent and an amendment to the treaty had been effected. This rather Platonic declaration of principle would have the advantage of cutting short any controversy with the U.S.S.R., without however preventing the agreement from going into effect. Furthermore, if so desired, it would permit the maintenance, if only as a token force, of British and American troops in the present zone A which they are occupying by virtue of the peace treaty. Subsequently, if circumstances were propitious, we could request the U.S.S.R. to join us in recognizing the agreement entered into between Rome and Belgrade. A refusal on the part of Moscow would then no longer have any practical bearing.

  1. Not printed; see footnote 1 to the aide-mémoire from the Department of State to the British Embassy, supra.
  2. Robert Schuman.