Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Western European Affairs ( Achilles ) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State ( Rusk )

The Italian Ambassador1 will call on you at 11:15 on January 27. I understand that he will wish to discuss with you the general subject of Italo-Ethiopian relations, in the light of recent developments at Geneva, where the Trusteeship Council has been writing a trust agreement for Italian administration of Somaliland and where Ethiopian-Italian representatives have been having private conversations looking toward Italo-Ethiopian rapprochement.

You will recall that the UN General Assembly approved in November 1949 a resolution placing former Italian Somaliland under a 10-year trusteeship, with Italy as the administering power. The General Assembly also established an investigating commission to examine the question of the disposal of Eritrea. Both these actions2 were contrary to the express wishes of Ethiopia, which regards the return of Italy to East Africa in any guise as a threat to Ethiopian security. It is believed that Ethiopia would have accepted the decision on Somaliland gracefully had the General Assembly approved the annexation by Ethiopia of the major portion of Eritrea.

In the General Assembly, both the United States and the United Kingdom argued for Italian trusteeship in Somaliland and for annexation by Ethiopia of the Eastern Province of Eritrea.

Since November, officers of the Department have informally been attempting to assist the Ethiopian and Italian Governments to resolve some of their outstanding differences. This assistance has taken the form of participation in informal private conversations, as in Washington, and now in Geneva. We have felt justified in taking this role in the interests of stability in East Africa and of contributing to an orderly transfer of the administration of Somaliland from the British to the Italians.

Otherwise favorable prospects for the conclusion of a Trust Agreement and an orderly transition in Somaliland now hinge on Italo-Ethiopian agreement on a provisional boundary between Ethiopia and Somaliland. Our delegation at Geneva reports that there is substantial agreement on such a boundary, but that the Ethiopians intend to withhold their assent until some agreement satisfactory to Ethiopia [Page 1641] can be reached on the question of Eritrea. We understand that the Italian Ambassador will wish today to discuss Ethiopia’s demand that as a price for agreement on the Somaliland issue, Italy renounce interest in Eritrea, to the extent of renouncing its position in favor of independence for Eritrea.

Our reports from Rome and Geneva coincide with the Italian understanding here that the Italian Government desires the earliest reestablishment of good relations with Ethiopia and appreciates that the question of Eritrea is the keystone to rapprochement. The Italians feel, however, that they cannot definitively agree to any particular disposition of Eritrea, since to do so would be in contravention of the spirit and letter of the General Assembly’s resolution. As our Ambassador at Rome3 has pointed out, to do so would also be politically impossible for the Italian Government at home. The Italians have told us that they can get by at home with acceptance of any decision of the UN Commission and the UN, and they also appear to be willing to agree to accept the Commission’s recommendations provided Ethiopia would agree to do likewise.

The British are most anxious to effect an early transition in Somaliland, and, apparently in appreciation of the importance of the Eritrean issue to that desire, have been talking directly with the Italians in London in an attempt to work out an Italo-Ethiopian agreement on Eritrea. The British have also frankly told us that they will believe annexation of the Eastern Province of Eritrea to Ethiopia is desirable, and they intend to work for that solution.

In these circumstances, it appears that Italy will be subjected to pressure by the British to renounce in at least secret agreement any interest in Eritrea beyond simple protection of Italian nationals and property there. Such pressure involves the serious risk of incurring the opprobrium of [the] Italian Government and people, and it is considered that the US should therefore scrupulously avoid any involvement therein. In order to avoid possible wire-crossing between the discussions at Geneva and those at London, as well as our implication in a diplomatic maneuver which will be unpalatable in Italy, we are instructing our delegation at Geneva to confine [its] further participation in private conversations there to the Somaliland question, leaving to the British, Italians, and Ethiopians where and how to discuss the Eritrea question. In this connection, it may be noted, that the British as administering authorities both in Eritrea and Somaliland have an interest in solving this question which can explain if not require their involvement.

It is recommended that you respond to Ambassador Tarchiani’s observation along the following line. We continue to be interested in [Page 1642] an orderly transition in Somaliland, and are gratified if our informal efforts to achieve that end have had a measure of success.

2. The position of the US on the future of Eritrea remains unchanged, that is, we believe the Eastern Province should be annexed to Ethiopia. We intend, however, to refrain from any activity or public statement on behalf of this position pending completion of the UN Commission study.4

  1. Alberto Tarchiani.
  2. For documentation regarding the decisions made in 1949 on the disposition of the former Italian colonies in Africa, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. iv, pp. 526 ff.
  3. James Clement Dunn.
  4. At the meeting at 11:15 Tarchiani indicated that the Italian Government strongly opposed annexation of Eritrea by Ethiopia, but that it also was coming to believe that independence would not be the best system for protecting the Italians in Eritrea. The Italian Ambassador told Rusk that he had been instructed to ask for the views of the United States on a system of international administration similar to Tangiers, and Rusk promised that this “suggestion would be given prompt and sympathetic consideration.” Memorandum of conversation, January 27, not printed (777.022/1–2750).