Memorandum of Conversation, by
the Director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs
- Ambassador Mates, Yugoslav Embassy
- Mr. Livingston T. Merchant, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European Affairs
- Mr. Ray L. Thurston, Director, Office of Eastern European Affairs
In the course of a tour d’horizon during which Mr. Merchant filled in the Yugoslav Ambassador on the highlights of the talk last week between the President and Prime Minister Churchill, Mr. Merchant mentioned that Trieste had been discussed very briefly and that it was the feeling of the British and ourselves that settlement of that question would open up vistas far out of proportion to the importance of the territorial question itself.2
When Mr. Merchant had finished his exposition, Ambassador Mates said that he was glad that the question of Trieste had been mentioned since that gave him an opportunity to talk about a matter which was of very direct concern to his Government. He wanted to stress above all the point that his Government had laid down all its cards in the London negotiations and that the tripartite agreement reached there could not be the subject of further negotiations with the Italians.
Mr. Merchant started to explain why it was difficult to put the affair on a take-it-or-leave-it basis to the Italians, and Ambassador Mates broke in to give a long account of high level conversations in which he had participated in Yugoslavia last March at a time when the instructions under which Velebit was operating were more restricted than the concessions which the Yugoslav leaders were prepared eventually to make. He said that in these meetings, which took place at Brioni, the danger of playing all the Yugoslav cards was discussed and that the Yugoslav Government had at that time made known its view to the British and ourselves at the highest levels that it would be advisable to take soundings with the Italians before reaching a final position. If the Anglo-American negotiators were not prepared to accept this suggestion, it was also suggested as an alternative that at the termination of the tripartite talks the position to be presented to the Italians not be the final one but the one put forward by the Yugoslavs two or three weeks before. Either one of these tactics would have obviated the take-it-or-leave-it problem. Ambassador Mates said that he was presenting this information to make it clear that the Yugoslavs had anticipated the difficulty to which Mr. Merchant was alluding. Ambassador Mates asserted most firmly that the Yugoslavs could accept only a settlement based on the content of the tripartite agreement.
Mr. Merchant replied that he was sure that the procedure followed had been the correct one and that he was encouraged by the [Page 468] restraint which had been displayed both in the Yugoslav and Italian press to believe that a settlement would be reached.
Ambassador Mates also raised the “provisional versus final” aspect of the Trieste question, stating that he believed that this could be handled by considering the agreement as legally binding but accompanying it by statements of a political nature on either side similar to the political reservation which had been made by the Yugoslav representative at the time of the signing of the Italian peace treaty. Asked what form this had taken, the Ambassador said that the Yugoslav representative had stated that his Government did not consider this to be a just settlement but that in the interest of peace, etc., his Government would abide by it. Ambassador Mates thought that it could be arranged that both the Italian and Yugoslav Governments could make a comparable statement in connection with Trieste settlement. He also referred to a recent article in Borba on the “provisional versus final” question—which he said represented the view of the Yugoslav Government—and noted that this article had been favorably reported in the Italian press.