Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (McGhee)

Subject: Eritrea

Participants: The Honorable Alberto Tarchiani, Italian Ambassador
Mr. George C. McGhee—NEA
Mr. Leo G. Cyr—AF
Mr. Alfred E. Wellons—AF

Problem: Draft working paper on Eritrea

Action required: Inform USUN and offices concerned in Department

Action assigned to: AF

The Italian Ambassador called on Mr. McGhee this afternoon to discuss the draft resolution on Eritrea prepared by various delegations to the Interim Committee of the General Assembly. Ambassador Tarchiani commented that the latest draft working paper was not satisfactory in several respects. He said the Italian Government had expressed its views to the British Government and that Prime Minister de Gasperi had sent a telegram on this subject to Foreign Minister Bevin—he gave Mr. McGhee a copy of the telegram which is attached.1

The Ambassador mentioned that at a recent Latin American caucus in New York Ambassador Muniz of Brazil and Ambassador Nervo of Mexico had tried to persuade the other Latin American delegations to support the draft working paper but that they had failed. Ambassador Tarchiani implied that unless several changes are made in the working paper, it would not be supported by many Latin Americans and by most of the Arab representatives. Furthermore, he pointed out that once the matter is taken up in the Political Committee of the GA, it is sure to be opposed by the USSR and Soviet satellite delegations. He said that the Soviet votes would undoubtedly be cast in favor of immediate independence for Eritrea and that it would be very difficult for the Italians not to be associated with them on this matter, although it would be embarrassing to the Italian Government, because of the widespread public sentiment in Italy in favor of independence for Eritrea and against a federation which would be regarded as annexation by Ethiopia. Mr. McGhee observed several times that it was the judgment of our representatives at the Interim Committee that this draft working paper, which had been prepared [Page 1673] during the course of two months of difficult negotiations in New York, was the best compromise possible under the circumstances and that it stood the best chance of being adopted. He added that the Department would, of course, check with our delegation in New York again in order to determine the degree of support for this draft.

When Mr. McGhee commented that there was already a wide area of agreement on this text and asked what points remained unresolved, the Ambassador referred particularly to taxation and police. Mr. McGhee said that our latest information indicated that both of these matters were being satisfactorily resolved. Then the Ambassador vigorously presented the Italian point of view that a UN Commissioner during the transition period in Eritrea would not be sufficient. He said there must also be an advisory council or commission of experts which would be independent of the Commissioner in order to guarantee that the resolution would be properly implemented. He expressed distrust of the British Administration, felt they could not be relied on to do the job and that, therefore, a further check on the British was necessary. Mr. McGhee said that we had no desire to see another commission or council of experts installed in Eritrea and that the United States is confident that the British Administration will carry out the task entrusted to them. Mr. McGhee pointed out that, after all, the General Assembly would be asking the British to continue to carry a heavy burden for a longer period of time than they wanted to.

The Ambassador mentioned several possibilities which he thought might prevent the adoption of this federation proposal in the General Assembly such as: the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Sir Zafrullah Khan, might make long speeches favoring independence and criticizing the British; alternative draft resolutions might be submitted on which votes would have to be taken; and many members of the UN might insist on greater UN control during the transition period before the federation is established. Mr. McGhee emphasized that the details of the federation proposal should be worked out in consultations between the delegations in New York. He said it would be a mistake to allow bilateral discussions in Rome, London or Washington to interfere with the completion of the project in the Interim Committee. Furthermore, he pointed out that the United States Government is not prepared to go any further than this draft working paper in the direction of a solution it does not really consider the best solution.

The Ambassador attacked the present draft on the grounds that it does not adequately define the term “federal government”. He said it did not specify what the federal government would be, unless it were the Ethiopian Government, which he considered autocratic. [Page 1674] However, in response to a question by Mr. Cyr, the Ambassador readily admitted that any federation solution, in order to be acceptable, could not impair the sovereignty of Ethiopia or change the form of its government. When the Ambassador said that the Ethiopian Government is not a federal government and is a dictatorship, Mr. McGhee pointed but that the “facts of life” facing the General Assembly are that it cannot change the Ethiopian Government nor impose a new super government on top of the present Ethiopian regime.

Ambassador Tarchiani said that many of the differences are just a matter of language in order to satisfy public opinion in Italy and, therefore, he hoped that another effort would be made to compromise on the text before the General Assembly considers the matter.

The Ambassador and Mr. McGhee agreed that an immediate solution to the Eritrean problem is desirable and expressed hopes that it could be worked out quickly in New York.

  1. Not printed. In it De Gasperi stated that the stripping away of Eritrea under any scheme less than federation would have a detrimental effect on Italy’s contribution to Western defense.