Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Perkins)1

Subject: Italian Position on Eritrea.

Participants: Mr. Giuseppe Brusasca, Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Italy
Mr. Leonardo Vitetti, Minister in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Italy
Ambassador Alberto Tarchiani of Italy
Mr. Perkins, EUR
Mr. Hilton, WE

The Italian Ambassador in opening the discussion mentioned that Mr. Brusasca had called at the Department last year following the completion of his good-will mission to South America. He was here now as Chairman of the Italian Delegation to participate in discussions to be held by the Interim Committee of the United Nations on the future of Eritrea.

Mr. Brusasca, speaking in Italian, expressed the support of the Italian Government for the U.S. action in Korea. Mr. Vitetti translated Mr. Brusasca’s remarks. In reply to Mr. Brusasca’s statement, [Page 1658] I mentioned that the United States had no alternative but to support the United Nations in opposing the aggression in Korea.

Turning to the question of Eritrea, Mr. Brusasca and Mr. Vitetti stated that Italy no longer stood for the independence of Eritrea but desired in all spirit of cooperation to achieve a settlement of this question based upon federation between Ethiopia and Eritrea. They pointed out that naturally the word federation had many different meanings. Although they felt that there were a number of technical problems to be settled regarding economic and political arrangements such as those affecting currency, taxation, citizenship, etc., which they implied should be subject to control of local government, the Italian Government, in supporting federation, agreed that both Eritrea and Ethiopia would be incorporated under the Emperor of Ethiopia and that foreign affairs, defense, and international trade would be centralized. They believed that a customs union should be established as soon as possible in order that the economies of the two countries could become adjusted and the entire area could form a viable unit.

In their opinion the minimum conditions for federation require that (1) the Ethiopians should be satisfied, (2) the rights of the Italians in Eritrea should be protected, (3) the Eritrean state should exercise authority over local matters, and (4) conditions should be established whereby the Moslems and Coptic Christians can live in peace. The steps for achieving federation are the establishment of an Eritrean state, the calling of a constitutional convention, and a period of self-government lasting for some five years with the continuing existence of British administration.

The British, in stating their position to the Italians, had, according to Mr. Brusasca and Mr. Vitetti, proposed the prompt formulation of a constitution providing for federation, the withdrawal of British troops within twelve months, and the issuance of a mandate to the Ethiopians and the Eritreans to work out together the details of federation. Mr. Brusasca and Mr. Vitetti felt that this was tantamont to outright annexation, for under such arrangements the Ethiopians would fully incorporate Eritrea with the Ethiopian Government. The only reason given the Italian Delegation by the British Delegation in support of the British proposal for withdrawal within twelve months was the cost of £500,000 per annum required to maintain British forces in the administration of Eritrea.

Mr. Brusasca and Mr. Vitetti stated that this seemed an insufficient reason in view of the important issues at stake in that area of the world, and of the strategic position occupied by Eritrea. They felt that there must be some other reason, although none was advanced.

[Page 1659]

In summarizing the factors which the Italian Government must consider in the settlement of the Eritrean question, they expressed concern over (1) the position of the Italians in Eritrea, (2) the possibility that any hasty settlement would produce conditions which could be exploited by communist propaganda, (3) the possible adverse reaction of the Italian people, (4) the attitude of the South American countries which had originally supported the Italian position favoring independence, and (5) the strategic position of Eritrea. They felt that due consideration of all of these factors justified a period under British administration during which Eritrea could develop self-government and then achieve full federation with Ethiopia which would satisfy the minimum conditions mentioned above.

I thanked Mr. Brusasca, Mr. Vitetti, and the Italian Ambassador for coming to discuss this problem and for the pleasure of seeing them again.2

  1. The memorandum was drafted by Hilton.
  2. Conversations similar to this one had been held in New York on July 8 between Tarchiani and John C. Ross, Alternate U.S. Representative at the United Nations, on July 13 in Washington between Tarchiani and Assistant Secretary of State Hickerson, and on July 18, presumably previous to this conversation, between the Italian participants and Deputy Under Secretary of State H. Freeman Matthews. Records of these conversations are in file 357.AH/7–850, 7–1340, and 7–1850.