Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Alfred Wellons of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs

Subject: Italian views on Italian Emigration to Africa and Italo-Ethiopian Relations

Participants: Mr. Alberto Tarchiani, the Italian Ambassador
Mr. George C. McGhee, Assistant Secretary of State
Mr. Samuel K. C. Kopper, ANE
Mr. A. E. Wellons, ANE

The Italian Ambassador at his request called on Mr. McGhee this afternoon1 to pay his respects and to discuss certain aspects of Mr. McGhee’s recent trip to Africa. He also raised the question of what action could be taken with respect to the resumption of consultations between Ethiopian and Italian representatives, particularly on the subject of Eritrea.

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The Ambassador asked if Mr. McGhee had had an opportunity to consider the possibilities of increased white settlement in Africa during his recent trip. Mr. McGhee said this had been considered very thoroughly at the Consular Conference held in Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, and the consensus was that relatively few areas in Africa were suitable for large-scale white settlement. The only areas open now are Southern Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa with perhaps some possibilities in the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola. The other parts of Africa simply do not have the resources or the climate to support Europeans adequately. The Ambassador thought it might be possible under the Point Four program to assist white settlement in Africa, but Mr. McGhee said the officers at the conference were quite pessimistic about much being accomplished. He added that in large parts of Africa the problem is to find and develop adequate resources for the Africans and that Point Four assistance in those areas would be directed to the benefit of the inhabitants. Mr. McGhee also pointed out that the Point Four program could not be expected to solve the basic political problems with which those African territories are confronted.

The Ambassador said that in regard to emigration to the Portuguese colonies the Italian Government would again approach the Portuguese Government in Lisbon on the matter. Mr. McGhee said that would be the best approach to the problem, and that in each case it would seem wise for the Italian Government to take it up directly with the metropolitan countries concerned.

In response to a question, Mr. McGhee said that he greatly enjoyed his visit of several days in Ethiopia, and that he was particularly impressed with the Emperor with whom he had several long interviews.2 The Emperor had assured Mr. McGhee that the Ethiopians had not and would not do anything to stir up trouble along the Somaliland border nor in Eritrea. He was eager that all possible steps be taken by all parties concerned to exercise a moderating influence on developments in Eritrea so that a reasonable solution of that problem could be achieved. With regard to Somaliland, Mr. McGhee said that he was pleased with the efficient manner in which the transfer of power from the British to the Italian administration had been completed. The Ambassador said there had been no particular difficulties but that the boundary with Ethiopia remained to be settled. He expressed the hope that it would be possible to leave the actual delimitation of that boundary to a UN Commission.

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In response to another question, Mr. McGhee said that he had found the situation in Asmara rather tense and that the UN Commission was having a difficult time in preparing its report. He said that many people in Asmara thought that the disturbances there had been due in large part to the activities of the Italians. The Ambassador interjected that the Italians had been the objects of the agitation and that Italians had been murdered. Furthermore, the Ambassador said that much of the rioting had been between Moslems and Christians. Mr. McGhee said that while this was true, many people on the spot believed the trouble had been incited by the proponents of independence who were being encouraged by the Italians.

The Ambassador recalled that the Italian Government had been willing to agree to a nonintervention policy as outlined in the formula drafted in Geneva, but that the Ethiopians had never given them an answer on that formula. Mr. McGhee observed that while he did not know why the Ethiopians had not replied, the Emperor had emphasized to him that the Ethiopian Government was not involved in the agitation in Eritrea. The Ambassador said that the Italian Government is still willing to accept the Geneva formula. In particular, the Government is ready to go ahead with the second part of the formula which provided for further conversations with the Ethiopians after the report of the UN Commission on Eritrea had been completed. The Ambassador then read a telegram he had just received instructing him to inform the Department that the Italian Government is prepared to accept the recommendations of the UN Commission and to discuss the position to be taken on the disposition of Eritrea with the British, American, and Ethiopian Governments.

Mr. McGhee said that the Department is willing to continue to provide friendly assistance for such purposes, but desires that any further steps should be taken in conjunction with the British Government. Mr. Kopper pointed out that we had suggested such talks to the British and were still awaiting a definite reply from the Foreign Office. Mr. McGhee said that the telegram which the Ambassador had read was very interesting and that we would be glad to pass the contents of it along to the Ethiopian Government, if he desired us to do so. The Ambassador said that he would have Mr. Catalano of the Italian Embassy prepare a memorandum on the contents of the telegram and bring it to the Department tomorrow.3

  1. April 6.
  2. For documentation on McGhee’s conversations with Emperor Haile Selassie, see pp. 1691 ff.
  3. A copy of the memorandum, not printed, is in file 357.AH/4–650. Copies of it and this memorandum of conversation were transmitted to London, Rome, and Addis Ababa with the instruction that it be given to Aklilou and Spencer. (Telegram 76, to Addis Ababa, April 11, not printed, 357.AH/4–650), Merrel delivered a copy of the note on April 11, but on the 19th he reported that apparently there would be no answer to the Italian initiative to resume conversations with Ethiopia, (Telegram 94, from Addis Ababa, not printed, 357.AH/4–1950).