No. 202
Memorandum of Conversation, by Robert G. Hooker of the Bureau of European Affairs1
top secret


  • Trieste Proposals


  • Mr. Merchant, Assistant Secretary
  • Dr. Luciolli, Italian Minister
  • WE—Mr. Jones
  • EUR—Mr. Hooker

The Italian Minister called at his request at 11:15 this morning. Mr. Merchant opened the conversation by referring to the Secretary’s meeting yesterday2 with the Italian Ambassador and said that he agreed with and supported the considerations advanced by the Secretary on which we based our hopes for an early Italian agreement to the proposals for the settlement of the Trieste problem. Mr. Merchant then went on to say that if the Secretary had had before him Ambassador Luce’s report (Rome’s 39523) of her conversation on Thursday with Prime Minister Scelba, he felt sure the Secretary would have expressed his surprise and disappointment at the Prime Minister’s remarks about the proposals. He wanted Dr. Luciolli to realize that we consider the proposals constitute an opportunity for the Italians which may not last forever, that in our opinion they represent the Yugoslav’s rock-bottom position, and are in no sense a bargaining position. He thought that on their merits the proposals should not only be entirely acceptable to the Italian Government but should be presentable to the Italian people as an achievement.

Dr. Luciolli replied that he had no information about Prime Minister Scelba’s interview with Ambassador Luce or any details about [Page 444] the proposals themselves; he could only say that he would report to his Government that the Italian Government had been presented with a US–UK–Yugoslav proposal on a take-it or leave-it basis, and on a basis of take it or leave it soon.

Mr. Merchant replied that it was inaccurate to describe as a “US–UK–Yugoslav proposal” a position to which the Yugoslavs had been brought by laborious negotiations lasting over four months and that “take it or leave it” was a harsh interpretation of what he had intended to convey. Mr. Jones stated it was important how the Italian Government presented the proposals ultimately to the parliament and the people and that it should consider carefully what a Trieste settlement means before taking a public position.

Luciolli then launched into a long and emotional tirade. He began by saying that we had told him the proposals were both fair and that they represent the maximum Yugoslav concessions. On the alleged fairness of the proposals, he said that the U.S. concept of fairness was evidently very “unstable”, and went into a long historical statement to the effect that ever since the Wilson line of 1919 the U.S. idea of what constituted fairness represented a series of continuous steps backwards, of which the October 8 proposal was the fourth or fifth; that the present proposal was clearly unfair and that it should be considered on the basis of whether there were other reasons why the Italian Government should accept it. He then developed a line of argument that the Yugoslav Government is a Communist dictatorship, and that Italy could not be expected to enter into arrangements with such a government which she would be perfectly willing to make with other governments, such as the French or the Swiss. He said that in essence this was not a case of an Italian-Yugoslav quarrel but rather one between the West and Yugoslavia, and that the U.S. insistence on impartiality is an insistence on impartiality between right and wrong; that in the negotiations just completed with the Yugoslavs the U.S. had done what it had refused to do with the Italians, and that this was inconsistent with the U.S.-Italian alliance. But in any case, the Italians never thought that the negotiations with the Yugoslavs would come out with something agreed on even in detail. The Italians were entitled to have had the benefit of the opposite procedure, i.e., tripartite US–UK negotiations with them before negotiations with the Yugoslavs. In effect, the result of the existing procedure has been that the US–UK have had to pay the Yugoslavs to get permission to give Zone A to Italy.

Mr. Merchant suggested that the Italians should consider the matter on another plane. He said that if we all keep our old emotions, without regard to the world situation, we will all face a most serious situation. He then alluded to the Italian refusal to sign the [Page 445] facilities agreement, which was designed to help improve their military posture. He said that when the Secretary had used the words “agonizing reappraisal” some months ago they were not idle or empty words, and that they included Italy as well as France.4 He concluded by saying that if the problem of Trieste is at the center of all of Italy’s difficulties, he would urge the Italians to accept proposals which contemplate the Trieste problem in terms of the larger interests of all. For the Italian Government to go to the Italian people with a negative, emotional, and critical attitude on the Trieste proposals would be a very serious matter.

Dr. Luciolli said that he agreed, and hoped that the Italian Government would not make public a negative reaction, that it would need time to study the proposals, and should view them in a broad framework in relation to the future rather than in the past. He thought that the proposed solution was objectively unfair, and that the real question is whether Italy could accept it for reasons of general policy. He then referred with feeling to the theme that the proposals had been submitted on a take-it or leave-it basis, with the implication that if the Italians reject it something bad will happen. He then put the question, if the Italians accept the proposals, what will Italy’s position be in the international field, what assurance will Italy have as to her position in the future. The question is whether these proposals are just a phase in the progressive elimination of Italy from consideration in the Western world. He said that the Italians do not trust the Yugoslavs now, and will not trust them after an agreement which in effect would represent a Yugoslav victory. The real question is, what guarantees has Italy for the future.

Mr. Merchant commented that Dr. Luciolli was in effect saying that the Italians cannot ever have good relations with Yugoslavia. He thought that the Italian attitude indicates the reason why the Italian position has deteriorated and why Italy has lost some of her leadership in Western Europe.

Dr. Luciolli replied that he did not mean to imply that Italy cannot have good relations with Yugoslavia. Italy can have businesslike relations with Yugoslavia, but cannot trust her. He concluded the interview by saying that the Italian Embassy would report faithfully the U.S. position, namely, that the Trieste proposal is one which the Italians must take or leave, and in either event, soon, although it would be reported that they are proposals which the United States considers fair. Mr. Merchant expressed the hope [Page 446] that the Minister would report this within the context of all the considerations which the U.S. side had advanced this morning. Dr. Luciolli agreed and repeated again that “a lot depends” on how the proposal is presented with respect to Italy’s position in future.

  1. Cleared in draft with Jones.
  2. A memorandum of this conversation is printed supra.
  3. In telegram 3952, June 4, Luce described her conversation the previous evening with Scelba, Piccioni, and Zoppi. Scelba stated that there was no hope at all for an early signature of the military facilities agreement. He complained bitterly of the deterioration in Italy’s international position as a result of recent developments concerning the Balkan Pact and of the plan for a settlement of the Trieste issue, which, he said, would force his government to resign if the details were to be made known publicly. Both Scelba and Piccioni concluded that Italy had been brushed aside as a second-rate power. Luce recommended to the Department of State that the military facilities negotiations be broken off and that she continue in her efforts to convince Scelba’s government that its policy of linking all internal and external matters to the Trieste issue was only working against the best interests of Italy. (711.56365/6–454)
  4. Reference is to Secretary Dulles’ remarks in Paris on Dec. 14, 1953, where he was attending the North Atlantic Council Ministerial meeting. For documentation regarding this meeting, see vol. v, Part 1, pp. 454 ff.