No. 94
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs (Leverich)
top secret
  • Subject: Trieste, Tripartite Military Talks with Yugoslavia, Wheat for Yugoslavia


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Vladimir Popovic, Yugoslav Ambassador
  • Dr. Mirko Bruner, First Secretary
  • Mr. Henry P. Leverich, EE

At his request, the Yugoslav Ambassador, accompanied by his First Secretary of Embassy, Dr. Bruner, called on the Secretary this afternoon at 3:30. After exchange of the usual courtesies, the Ambassador took occasion to express not only his own satisfaction but also that of the Yugoslav participants with the outcome of the military talks between Yugoslavia on the one hand and the US, UK and France on the other,1 which he believed showed great progress in the rapprochement between Yugoslavia and the Western powers. He felt that these talks were of great significance for two main reasons. First, they marked an important step in the development of a mutual concept for the defense of Southeastern Europe, thereby strengthening the common defensive system against Soviet aggression. Second, in these talks with complete sincerity and frankness the Yugoslavs had for the first time given full details of Yugoslav defense plans. The Ambassador understood that the Tripartite representatives in the talks fully appreciated the forthrightness of the Yugoslav participants, and he was glad that this had taken place at this particular juncture in the international situation. The Ambassador said that in the light of these circumstances he was compelled to say that he had been somewhat surprised to see in the American press numerous articles asserting that the attitude of Yugoslavia is “hurting the Balkan defense pact”. He wished to assure the Secretary that Yugoslavia has no intention of weakening the “Balkan defense pact” and on the contrary will continue its efforts to strengthen it since Yugoslavia considers the pact as a contribution to over-all defensive strength against Soviet encroachments. The Ambassador referred in particular [Page 245] to two articles by Sulzberger which he said had appeared recently in the New York Times.

In response to the Secretary’s inquiry, Mr. Leverich said that he had noted numerous press stories since last weekend which were apparently prompted by the flare-up between Yugoslavia and Italy regarding Trieste, and that these articles had indulged in speculation of all sorts with respect to Yugoslavia’s attitude in this matter. (Subsequent reference shows that the Sulzberger articles dealt not only with the Trieste problem but also with the recent press altercation between Yugoslavia and Greece regarding Greek Macedonia). The Secretary then pointed out that, as the Yugoslav Ambassador was aware, we have a free press in this country and we do not make any attempt to influence it. The current military talks, the Secretary said, had been kept on a Top Secret basis, and hence the press has no factual basis on which to write. Consequently, whatever they do write is purely speculation, and he did not believe that the Yugoslav Government need be concerned by these press articles.

The Ambassador replied that the press articles were not of primary importance. What is essential, he said, is that cooperation between Yugoslavia and the Western powers should go forward, and in this connection he regretted the Italian attitude with regard to the military talks. Italy, which should be interested in any steps aimed at building up defensive strength, has indicated resentment over the Tripartite talks with Yugoslavia, and it is to be hoped that gradually Italy will realize that such a policy is detrimental to Italy’s own interests.

The Secretary said that he had not yet received any detailed report on the outcome of the current military talks but that it was his impression that they had gone well, in an atmosphere of frankness on both sides. He wished to express our appreciation of the Yugoslav Government’s attitude in this respect. Whereas the Secretary did not attach any fundamental importance to press reports, he said that we are concerned over the situation regarding Trieste which flared up so sensationally during the last week. He hoped that the Yugoslav Government would avoid adding any fuel to the flames, which he thought would gradually die down. The Secretary underlined our hope for a solution of the Trieste problem. We cannot go as far in building up common defense as we wish until harmonious relations between Yugoslavia and Italy have been established. The United States is eager to do whatever it can to help bring this about. The Secretary expressed the hope that the Yugoslav Government will maintain an attitude of calm and will do nothing to aggravate the most recent tension between Yugoslavia and Italy over Trieste. This flare-up illustrates the need to move [Page 246] quickly to eliminate the friction between two governments which in their mutual interests should be working together.

Responding to the Secretary’s observations, the Ambassador stated that his country had consistently favored a reasonable settlement of the Trieste question and had demonstrated its attitude by deeds and by concrete proposals. The Italians, on the other hand, have consistently blocked any feasible settlement and have turned down all Yugoslav proposals and efforts in this direction. The desire of the Yugoslav Government to cooperate has been demonstrated not only with respect to Trieste but also in other matters, but the Italian response has always been negative. The Italians have manufactured provocations and have endeavored to present events in such a way as to discredit Yugoslavia. The Ambassador expressed the belief that as long as the Italians are given the impression by the Western powers that there is no alternative to the March 1948 declaration regarding Trieste, there will be no inclination on Italy’s part to permit reasonable settlement of the issue. In this regard, the Ambassador referred to press reports on the tickers of the Secretary’s press conference this morning, which the Ambassador thought implied reaffirmation of the 1948 declaration2 and which he was sure would be interpreted by the Italians and built up in the Italian press as such.

The Secretary replied that he did not know what the tickers were putting out but that he knew what he had said. He did not think that the reports as described to him just now by the Ambassador were accurate and, in order to set the matter straight, he would read from the transcript of his press conference. The Secretary proceeded to read the following excerpt therefrom:

“Q. Mr. Secretary, do we have an official policy position on Trieste that is later than that ’48 statement which would have awarded it all to Italy?

“A. I would say that the US, since that time, has been exploring other alternatives and has been open-minded to other alternatives. In other words, we do not necessarily regard that like the laws of the Medes and the Persians which stand forever. So far, we have not come up with any official alternative proposal.”

The Ambassador listened attentively and stated smilingly that the Secretary’s remarks were entirely different than had been reported and he was indeed glad that this was the case. Dr. Bruner read through the transcript himself and jotted down notes, presumably for transmission to his government.

[Page 247]

The Ambassador said that there was one more point upon which he wished to touch. Shortly before leaving for Yugoslavia earlier in the summer he had had a talk with General Smith3 and, as a result thereof, had been able to carry back to his government assurances of substantial United States aid to meet Yugoslavia’s urgent need for wheat. While he was away, however, officials of the Embassy talked with lower ranking officials of the United States Government, and obtained quite a different impression of the amount of aid to which Yugoslavia could look forward, an impression quite contrary to that given by General Smith. This was a great disappointment to the Ambassador and to his government, and he wondered whether the Secretary had anything to tell him on this point.

The Secretary replied that he simply did not have the information at hand to give an answer at this time. He did know that the question of economic aid to Yugoslavia was currently under intensive study, both in the State Department and in other agencies of the Government, and that a decision would be forthcoming in the near future. The Secretary pointed out that it is one thing for the State Department to determine that a certain course of action is desirable as a matter of policy, and quite another thing for other agencies of the Government responsible for action in the matter to find the means of actually putting it into effect. They were often faced with the problem of finding money, and with other practical problems. The Secretary promised to look into this matter, and in the meantime asked Mr. Leverich if he had anything to add. In reply, Mr. Leverich pointed out that following the appropriation by the Congress, FOA had been engaged in reapportioning the amounts of economic aid which it would be possible to grant to the various countries concerned. This process was still in progress and the Ambassador might rest assured that the Yugoslav position, which had been so ably set forth by the Ambassador on more than one occasion and by other representatives of his Embassy, would be given most careful consideration.

The Ambassador asked if the Secretary had anything which he might like him to pass on to his government with regard to the general international situation, such, for example, as prospective talks with the USSR. In reply the Secretary said that there were no plans for any talks with the Soviets other than those which were dealt with in the recently published notes regarding Germany and Austria and the prospective conference regarding Korea.

  1. A summary report of these talks, held in Washington Aug. 24–28, is in file 611.68/8–2453.
  2. Reference is to the Mar. 20, 1948, announcement on Trieste by the French, British, and U.S. Governments that they favored the return of the Free Territory of Trieste to Italy. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, Mar. 28, 1948, p. 425.
  3. Ambassador Popović and Under Secretary Smith briefly discussed a Yugoslav request for wheat on July 20. A memorandum of this conversation is in file 768.5 MSP/7–2053.