EE files, lot 67 D 238, “Yugoslavia military talks”

No. 639
Summary Transcript of Discussion at a United States-British Politico-Military Meeting, Washington, April 16, 19521

top secret


  • British Embassy:
    • Sir Christopher Steel, Minister
    • Mr. I. F. Porter, First Secretary
  • British Military:
    • Admiral Pennant
    • Brigadier Price
    • Lt. Colonel R. H. C. Bryers
  • United States Military:
    • General J. Lawton Collins
    • Major General Clyde Eddleman
    • Lt. Colonel T. J. Camp
  • State Department:
    • Mr. H. Freeman Matthews, Deputy Under Secretary of State
    • Mr. George W. Perkins, Assistant Secretary of State
    • Mr. Paul H. Nitze, Director, Policy Planning Staff
    • Mr. Walworth Barbour, Director, Eastern European Affairs
    • Mr. Oliver M. Marcy
[Page 1277]

Mr. Matthews opened the meeting by remarking that he understood that as a result of the previous politico-military meeting on November 12 there were three principal problems concerning which the British had wished to consult London. As Mr. Matthews recalled the three major issues were (1) procedure; (2) Albania and (3) the question of the commitment of (token) troops. He inquired whether Sir Christopher Steel would like to set forth the present British view on these issues.

Sir Christopher Steel remarked that the British impression was that the principal issue remaining between the US and UK was that of procedure. The other issues would largely find their solution once the procedural aspect was agreed. . . . It was Sir Christopher’s impression that this had been, in general, agreed between the US and UK at the time of the Churchill visit.2

The British view, according to Sir Christopher, is that it is now essential to bring in France. If the United States agrees there remains primarily the question of how to do so. The Foreign Office idea is that it would be appropriate for the United States formally to approach both the UK and France and propose discussions between the three powers.

Following some discussion between both sides as to whether or not the French in fact realize that discussions have been going on between the United States and the UK in reference to Yugoslavia, Messrs. Matthews and Perkins indicated agreement with the British suggestion: Generals Collins and Eddleman concurring.

Sir Christopher Steel then raised the question of the procedure and timing of the actual proposal to Tito, continuing that it was the Foreign Office’s idea that the three Ambassadors in Belgrade should be instructed, in whatever manner they deemed appropriate (either as a group, or by deputizing one) to approach Tito in the premises.

Mr. Matthews mentioned that in the US view we must inform the Italians of what we propose to do before we actually approach Tito. Sir Christopher replied that the British had thought of informing the Italians after we had some indication as to whether or not Tito is willing to play. Mr. Perkins elaborated on Mr. Matthews’ remark, pointing out that we wish merely to inform the Italians of what we intend to do, not to offer them participation in the approach. To this Sir Christopher replied that in his view this question depended to a certain extent on how the approach to Tito developed. Following the approach of the three Ambassadors, if Tito, for example, wished to send a representative to London or [Page 1278]some other place outside Yugoslavia that was one thing. If, on the other hand, it was proposed that Admiral Carney either go himself or send someone to Yugoslavia that was another. Sir Christopher felt that if Admiral Carney was to conduct the talks he could, with his special relations with the Italians, tell them what we were doing on his level. That shouldn’t, in his view, bother the Italians too much.

At this juncture Mr. Perkins reverted to the approach made by Admiral Carney a year ago3 and some discussion followed as to whether or not Admiral Carney had actually talked with the Italians . . . . It was the consensus, and General Collins stated that he was certain, that Admiral Carney had not actually spoken with the Italians on the substance of this matter.

Sir Christopher Steel then noted that if Tito rejected our approach, for example asserting that Italo-Yugoslav relations over Trieste were such that he could not proceed, the three powers would be embarrassed by having previously informed the Italians of our intentions: the Italians could make good use of such a development. To this General Collins replied that that would, of course, be true but that in fact both British and American representatives, General Collins included, had spoken with the Yugoslavs on this general issue and that the Yugoslavs seemed favorably disposed. Among other things, when General Popovic traveled to both the United States and the UK last year he had indicated general Yugoslav preparedness to enter into such discussions. To Sir Christopher Steel’s comment that the conversation with General Popovic had to deal primarily with material support to Yugoslavia, Messrs. Matthews and Collins agreed. . . .

Mr. Matthews then suggested that the approach to Tito might be done at the same time as the Italians are informed of our intention, to which Mr. Perkins agreed. Sir Christopher Steel reverted to the idea that if Admiral Carney were himself to make the approach to both the Yugoslavs and Italians, the approach to the latter could be accomplished with less political emphasis. General Collins noted that from the military point of view there was certainly no objection to this, particularly since the JCS feels it is essential for Admiral Carney to get into this problem as quickly as possible. He pointed out that the Joint Chiefs of Staff can not themselves speak for General Eisenhower’s headquarters. Admiral Carney in effect wears two hats. Unfortunately, in the approach to Tito he cannot go as General Eisenhower’s representative, but would be acting only on behalf of the three powers.

[Page 1279]

Sir Christopher, agreeing that Admiral Carney would represent the three countries, stated that he thought it would work if the three Ambassadors made their approach and Admiral Carney spoke to the Italians before actually entering into discussions with the Yugoslavs.

General Eddleman then suggested that a compromise be reached involving an informal approach to Tito to see if he is willing prior to approaching the Italians, and finally a formal approach to Tito. To this, Sir Christopher remarked that in any event and in all approaches to both the Yugoslavs and the Italians we would wish to be as informal and confidential as possible: the Ambassadors could work out the formula. General Collins then posed the question as to whether it was better to make the approach to the Italians through Admiral Carney or on a diplomatic level, pointing out that if Admiral Carney made the approach the US and UK Governments on the political level might be embarrassed. The Italians might find it strange and resent that an initial approach had not been made through normal diplomatic channels.

Following Sir Christopher Steel’s remark that it was his personal thought that it would be less conspicuous if Admiral Carney made the approach, Mr. Matthews inquired what Messrs. Perkins and Barbour thought of General Collins’ idea. The latter agreed that there was merit in the suggestion of an approach on the Ambassadorial level in Rome, and Mr. Barbour pointed out that such an approach would be on a par with the approach to the Yugoslavs. General Collins added that he could foresee possible difficulties between Admiral Carney and his Italian Service colleagues, as he would be getting into the political field. An Ambassadorial approach, on the other hand, would smooth the relationship between Admiral Carney and Italian political and military leaders. He therefore tended to believe it would be preferable to have the Ambassadors make the approach. Mr. Barbour noted that it might be preferable to have one Ambassador make the approach on behalf of all three, to which Sir Christopher Steel replied that this might also well be left to the discretion of the Ambassadors.

Sir Christopher Steel remarked that he did not know whether HMG felt strongly on this issue but that he was prepared to put the United States view to the Foreign Office.

Mr. Matthews stated that he agreed to the Ambassadorial approach. Sir Christopher agreed to Mr. Barbour’s comment that there should be no publicity, and then summed up that we should: (1) go to Tito; (2) advise the Italians through the Ambassadors, in such form as they desire; and (3) instruct Admiral Carney to enter into discussions with the Yugoslavs in whatever manner he felt appropriate. He might not wish himself to go to Yugoslavia in the [Page 1280]first instance, but rather to send a representative. To this General Collins replied that he thought Admiral Carney might well wish to go to Yugoslavia himself, and that he was certain from the Yugoslav point of view they would wish to talk to Admiral Carney. It was generally agreed that this question be left to Admiral Carney to work out with Tito, and should be left as flexible as possible. It might well work out that Tito would wish to send a representative outside Yugoslavia for the first contact. In any event, the three Ambassadors in their approach to Tito would emphasize that it was the Three Powers’ desire that the talks should ultimately be carried on by Admiral Carney.

Sir Christopher Steel then emphasized that when Admiral Carney goes he should go as a representative of the Three Powers and not of the Italians, although the Italians would, of course, know about the approach. General Collins raised the question of possible Italian insistence that Admiral Carney represent them also. To this Sir Christopher Steel responded that Admiral Carney would have to resist such an Italian desire. We must not get involved as between the Italians and the Yugoslavs. General Collins demurred stating that Admiral Carney was going to be forced at some juncture to let the Italians (Marras) know what was going on between himself and the Yugoslavs. He continued that, if Admiral Carney agreed with his personal view of the importance of the Ljubljana Gap, and it were possible to persuade the Italians that the defense of Italy can best be accomplished in Yugoslavia, they might be prepared to cooperate on a military level. To this Sir Christopher remarked that the Italians and Yugoslavs seemed to be far from prepared at this time to enter into such close relations. . . .

Mr. Perkins then raised the question of informing the Greeks, and Sir Christopher Steel noted that HMG was fully sensitive to the necessity of getting the Greeks in, particularly now that they are full members of NATO. He noted that the Greeks and Yugoslavs would be prepared to fight side by side since, of all the nations in the Balkan Peninsula, they have not fought each other (with the exception of the Albanian incident immediately following the last war), and have a long record of friendly relations.

General Collins then reverted to the discussion of the Yugoslav-Italian relationship. Stating that—leaving the question of Trieste aside— . . . Therefore, since the Yugoslavs would in effect be defending Italy, they might be prepared to let the Italians fight side by side with them. Sir Christopher Steel replied that he was certain this might be so in case of war but he could not see it at the present time. Perhaps they might be prepared to make a secret agreement to this effect: he did not know. General Collins commented [Page 1281]that this point seemed logically to lead to the next question: that of token troops. Discussion on that aspect was, however, deferred.

Sir Christopher Steel then raised the question of Albania, asking for US views on this subject. Mr. Matthews stated that we had hoped to leave this problem outside the context of the present talks, to which Sir Christopher Steel agreed. Mr. Perkins noted that we did wish to pursue this matter in another context, and that US and UK should soon arrive at some common policy but that we did not desire to delay the present matter pending such agreement. To this Sir Christopher Steel agreed, noting that in addition to the strategic aspect there were other important aspects of this problem, such as clandestine activities.

Mr. Matthews then asked General Collins to discuss the US position on token forces.

. . . General Collins wished to bring this concept into its proper context, and emphasized that in brief the US position is that we should not decide now what to do as regards committing troops. Mr. Matthews noted that, in his understanding, the previous British view was that they then wished to agree not to commit any troops. To this Sir Christopher Steel commented that the British had, in fact, raised the possibility that logistic and other problems involved in sending token Western forces to this area would be considerable, and that such token forces might in fact have no material effect upon the course of hostilities. He noted that the US position is that we would like to leave the question open.

. . . . . . .

Admiral Pennant then noted that the previous British position was predicated upon their desire not to commit themselves to send troops in. General Collins clarified that the US likewise did not wish to commit itself to do so. Admiral Pennant and Sir Christopher Steel agreed that the British do not at this time desire to commit themselves not to do so. Sir Christopher Steel was willing to put this position up to HMG.

Sir Christopher Steel then referred to previous discussion regarding whether we were speaking of strategic planning for a localized or general war. The present thinking of the British Chiefs of Staff is that there is no reality in such a discussion. There was general agreement with this view, General Collins noting that the Yugoslavs themselves believe very strongly that a localized war is impossible and Sir Christopher Steel adding the British belief that the Russians also think so. Mr. Matthews raised the question of [Page 1282]probable Yugoslav reaction if the Russians attacked in Germany. . . .

Mr. Matthews then asked General Collins if he wished to raise the question of troops in Trieste at this time. General Collins replied that since that matter was being taken up in another context he did not wish to do so.4

Sir Christopher Steel at that point inquired how matters stood in the London talks on Trieste: were they over? Mr. Perkins replied that they were not, that the latest information we had was that a compromise proposal had been made and submitted to General Winterton, who had wired back certain objections. A reply and response had followed, and General Winterton had now made certain suggestions concerning a possible compromise. These looked all right to the Department of State, but Defense had not yet had a chance to study them. Mr. Perkins doubted that any further progress would be made before next week.5 Sir Christopher Steel noted that in the meantime the question of talks in Washington had apparently been dropped,6 but added that the British—and he assumed the US—still basically desired to get their troops out of Trieste. To this General Collins replied that, in his view, whether or not the United States wished to get its troops out of Trieste depended entirely upon the outcome of the strategic talks. In his purely personal view, we were getting and would get double return out of all funds we invest in Yugoslav defense compared with those we invest in Italy. Speaking solely as an individual, General Collins could see many advantages from the purely military point of view in both the US and UK remaining in Trieste. To this Sir Christopher Steel remarked that the British difficulty was that they had no reserves, and he continued to give several examples of the difficulties this factor was causing the British. General Collins remarked that, on the other hand, visualizing the situation that would result were Italy to be overrun, one could see its terrific importance. Sir Christopher Steel noted that Italy had been overrun during the last war, to which General Collins remarked that the West had not liked the resulting situation. In his personal opinion the overrunning of Italy was far more important than the overrunning of Greece. Sir Christopher Steel retorted that the UK felt very strongly about Greece, from sentimental, traditional and other ties.

[Page 1283]

Sir Christopher concluded that he had no more issues to raise at the present meeting, that he would transmit the several points raised during the session to London and that if, as he believed would be the case, they were agreeable to London, he would send the Department a note to that effect. He believed he could accomplish this within a week. The next move would then be up to the US to make the formal approach to the UK and France.

  1. Drafted by Marcy and Camp. The meeting was held at the Department of State from 3 to 3:45 p.m.
  2. For documentation regarding the visit of Prime Minister Churchill to the United States, Jan. 5–18, 1952, see vol. VI, Part 1, pp. 693 ff.
  3. This approach has not been further identified.
  4. Presumably reference is to discussions between the Department of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Mar. 26. (State–JCS Meetings, lot 61 D 417, March 1952)
  5. Reference is to negotiations in London, Apr. 3–May 9 between representatives of Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States regarding the administration of Zone A of the Free Territory of Trieste; see Documents 92 ff.
  6. The talks regarding Trieste which were to take place early in April in Washington between France, the United Kingdom, and the United States were postponed.