No. 140
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Office of Western European Affairs (Byington)
top secret


  • Trieste


  • The President
  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • Admiral Radford
  • Mr. Cutler
  • Mr. Merchant, EUR
  • Mr. Byington, WE

The Secretary outlined for the President the present situation with regard to Trieste. He reviewed the action taken up to date including the change in plans suggested by Mr. Eden whereby the announcement of the decision was made within a few hours after the conference with Marshal Tito and Prime Minister Pella. He also pointed out that, according to Mr. Eden, Marshal Tito, a year ago, had indicated quite definitely a willingness to accept a solution along Zone A–Zone B lines. The Secretary then described the steps we now envisaged for the purpose of bringing both Italy and Yugoslavia to a conference table despite the fact that Italy said they would not come unless the October 8 decision were implemented [Page 324] in advance and Yugoslavia said that they would not come if the October 8 decision were implemented.1

The Secretary mentioned the reluctance on the part of the military authorities to that feature of our plan which envisaged the transfer of civil administration in Zone A to Italy prior to the entry of Italian troops during the period when US and UK troops would still be in the Zone. He said he could understand this concern which was based on the possibility of disturbances within the Zone and that he understood Admiral Radford would speak about this. He said he would listen to what the Admiral had to say with an open mind but that he wished to point out his primary view that the political considerations left us little in the way of an alternative other than to ask the military to assume this increased risk in order to carry out a political solution of the problem.

The President said that he could envisage a situation whereby the Italians might purposely permit incidents in Zone A while the US and UK troops were still there in order to push the issue to a crisis and provide an excuse for bringing in Italian troops as well as facing up to the Yugoslavs while Anglo-American troops were still in the Zone. The President said that he thought there ought to be some residual authority which would allow the Zone Commander to reassume authority and be able to declare martial law in the event of such a development. He did not see why we could not still work out an arrangement of the kind we contemplated while retaining a safeguard of this kind. We should find some way to ensure that the Italians would exercise restraint.

Secretary Wilson said that he understood Marshal Tito would not come to a conference if the Allies took any steps toward turning over even the civil authority in Zone A to the Italians regardless of the question whether Italian troops were permitted to enter the Zone. The Secretary of State referred to his conversation the previous day with the Yugoslav Ambassador2 pointing out that the [Page 325] October 8 decision represented the bare bones of a solution and a great deal depended upon how the figure was carved out and what appearance it might finally take. He thought the question of the protection of minorities and a free port and such matters which could come out of a conference as well as any territorial modifications that could be mutually agreed upon could lead to a situation which the Yugoslavs might be able to accept.

The President described the importance of a solution in terms of the European political and military situation. He said that this area in Southern Europe represents our weak flank, that any defense of Italy itself was made extremely difficult by the nature of the terrain with its broad shallow rivers and flat land, and that to make a defense that made sense one had to go the Ljubljana gap. It was this European situation and the defense problem that caused us to make this desperate effort to get these two countries on the same side of the fence. Our only hope getting them together rested on a solution of this Trieste problem.

Admiral Radford said that the military concern was not so much the element of risk involved for the troops. Risks of this kind often had to be taken and were taken. It was a question of what would happen if an incident took place, who would take charge and how could we avoid the Italians from creating an incident. The Secretary said that the British had proposed a meeting in London of representatives of their and our Defense Departments, the State Department and the Foreign Office, as well as officers representing General Winterton. It would be the task of this meeting to come up with definite recommendations as to how this problem could be resolved. In reply to an inquiry from Secretary Wilson the Secretary agreed that if the question were not resolved or if Tito turned down a conference it would be necessary to submit the matter again to the President.

After the meeting it was agreed between the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and Admiral Radford that a small group would go to London immediately to commence the military discussions with the British3 and that in the meanwhile the Department of State would begin preliminary discussion with the British and French of our plan for a five-power conference, subject to the determination in London whether a formula could be defined for the turnover of civil administration in Zone A to Italy.4

  1. Attached to the source text was an undated memorandum for the President regarding Trieste, which bears the handwritten notation by O’Connor, “Sec saw. RLO’C”. This memorandum, which presumably furnished the basis for Dulles’ briefing of Eisenhower at the meeting, described the plans for setting up a five-power conference on Trieste. In the memorandum, Dulles requested Eisenhower’s authorization to negotiate first with the British and the French in an effort to arrange the conference and to turn over the civil administration of Zone A to Italy. Attached to this memorandum were tentative draft instructions to be sent to Belgrade and Rome regarding soundings to be made by the Western representatives in those cities to the respective host governments. There is no indication on the source text either that Dulles gave the memorandum to Eisenhower or that Eisenhower authorized him to proceed as requested.
  2. A memorandum of the conversation between Dulles and Ambassador Popović on Oct. 21 is in file 750G.00/10–2153.
  3. These discussions took place in London, Oct. 26–28. For the report of the United States–United Kingdom Working Party, see Document 145.
  4. Preliminary discussions with representatives of the British and French Embassies regarding the five-power conference on Trieste began at the Department of State on Oct. 22. A memorandum of conversation at this meeting, as well as memoranda covering numerous subsequent meetings of this group on this question, are in file 750G.00.